March 10, 2012; Tampa FL, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Dustin Tokarski (40) defends the goal during the first period against the Carolina Hurricanes at Tampa Bay Times Forum. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
The Norfolk Admirals played their final home game for the 2011-2012 AHL season on Saturday, 7 April. They beat the current Calder Cup Champions, the Binghamtom Senators, 4-1. This game had everything - suspense, a full house, and a line brawl.
But all anyone could talk about was the 25-game winning streak.
It colored everything - and for good reason. It's an outstanding mark of achievement. Not just for the team, but for individuals as well. This should be something that everyone is proud of.
Even still, it's an omnipresent fact that no one can escape. Anything in regards to the Admirals had the word "streak" attached to it. Any stat, and player, any person associated with the team - even the fans - it's all before or after the streak. Talking about the streak is completely unavoidable - and it just keeps on going.
Even when just talking about the game afterwards, the streak sneaks in there.
"Actually, it's probably a pretty good game to be at. The fans were probably pretty excited when the melee started. And I thought we actually took a step backwards after that. I thought we let down; I thought we sort of lost our concentration a little bit. And then that wacky goal goes in, and I thought, "Ahhh. Those ones have been going in for us, not against us." So there was a little bit of a tingle of worry there. But, you know, we found a way. Like they have this whole streak. Tough to explain." -Head coach Jon Cooper
The melee, incidentally, was set off by Alexandre Picard clipping Binghamton's (and former Lightning) goalie, Mike McKenna. Picard mostly avoided McKenna, and ended up running into this net, taking it off its moorings. A Senator's defenseman, Ben Blood (real name), took exception to Picard almost running his goalie, and jumped him. Then the rest of both teams followed. It wasn't so much a fight as it was a dog pile.
When Dustin Tokarski skated down ice to join in, there was a lot of wrestling going on. A Sens player took Tokarski out, and eventually he was paired up with McKenna. But they just held on to each other, as Tokarski put it after the game, McKenna "didn't want to go."
"The comical part of that whole thing was was when a line change happened, there was more coaches and staff – there were only two players on the bench – so there were more coaches and staff than players. So we had a pretty good chuckle at that." -Jon Cooper
The whole thing sort of reminded me of major juniors, actually.
Penalties for the line brawl ended up going 55 PIM for each team - for a grand total of 110 PIM. Four players from each team went to their respective dressing rooms for the remainder of the first period. For the start of the second, it was almost standing room only in the penalty boxes.
Craig Schira scored in the first for the Sens, and then Pierre-Cedric Labrie scored late in the second. The 1-1 tie dragged its way through the third, and the streak was still in everyone's minds. Until Trevor Smith broke the tie at 17:11 of the third period, followed by goals from Tyler Johnson and an empter netter by Cory Conacher.
"I didn't see the puck go in the net, because everyone was standing, so it was hard for me to see. But I saw Smitty back into the exact same area he was in last night, and I thought, "Well, he's in the same area...." And then I had to wait until I saw everybody in the stands jump up to know that it was in. The boys have a flair for the dramatics right now, and it's pretty exciting to be a part of this." -Jon Cooper
But even still, with playoffs just a couple of weeks away, the streak is talked about.
"You've got teams that are still fighting their way to getting into playoffs. Regardless of if they're in or not, we're going to get their best shot, because they want to be the team that knocks us off. As I would want to be, if this was a reverse situation. So, we're cognizant of that. But our big thing is that we're three games away from playoffs, and we're tinkering with things to put ourselves into the best position to play Game 1, and not necessarily to continue this...basically breaking our own record." -Jon Cooper
The Admirals are almost done with their regular season. They are currently lead their division, their conference, and the entire league in the standings. The streak, which has taken on a life of its own, has definitely helped.
But, as with the NHL, playoffs are an entirely different season. Right now, they're in a great position going into playoffs. they're winning despite adversity, and they're confident in their abilities. So, here's to hoping that they taking it all the way.
As Johnson likes to say on Twitter, "25's a fluke, but 26's a streak."