The circus is officially in town.
And because of it, the Connecticut Whale and Norfolk Admirals will take the ice of the Whale’s rivals in Bridgeport tonight. The XL Center, booked a couple of days every May for the circus, is just simply unavailable.
It’s unfortunate for the Whale, and their fans, that this had to happen. But to be tied at two in a series where not many thought they’d live to see even a game six, tonight’s game five opportunity to take the series lead is a most welcomed sight.
The Whale split their first two true home games in Hartford with the Admirals, but other than six important minutes in the second period of game three, the Whale have outplayed and physically dominated Norfolk, a quick and fast-striking team.
The physicality shown by the Whale has been a major difference in the series thus far. The team almost buys into the concept displayed by the New York Rangers: everyone hits and everyone blocks shots. Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, one of the team’s best offensive forwards, isn’t afraid to throw a big hit and plays a fearless style of hockey. The hits come from the unexpected like Audy-Marchessault, as well as the expected sources like Scott Tanski (who also scored game four’s game winning goal) and Andre Deveaux, who has been a pain in the butt to the Admirals.
Game four was another example of Cameron Talbot’s stellar play. Shots were at a minimum but Talbot turned away countless great Admiral chances with the Whale leading in the third period. Norfolk isn’t a team that can be given opportunities. They strike fast and never look back. But with the way the Whale are pushing the Admirals around on the ice, the series has changed. The Whale have pushed the play along the boards, playing a style of hockey they feel most comfortable with. Having Talbot’s steady mind in net gives the rest of the team the confidence to execute knowing they have a rock in net.
And so it’ll be slightly odd that one of the Whale’s most important hockey games in years will be played at “home” in Bridgeport tonight. It’s in state, but it isn’t comfortable surroundings. Still, if they can control the tempo and the play of the game as they did in games three and four, the Whale have a great chance to go back to Norfolk needing to win just one of the remaining two games to pull off the huge upset.
But be careful, Connecticut. Those Admirals will be coming hard. They have to if they don’t want their amazing season, which saw them win 28 games in a row, to end later this week.