The Milwaukee Admirals broke open a tight-checking defensive battle in the third period, exploding for a trio of goals in a 3-1 come-from-behind victory over the Abbotsford Heat on Saturday evening.
The Heat took a 1-0 lead into the final frame, but the visitors from Wisconsin leveled the score just 57 seconds into the period on a goal by Michael Latta. Later on, Milwaukee’s Victor Bartley and Taylor Beck struck 31 seconds apart to provide the margin of victory.
“I think we were too soft in a lot of areas, and we didn’t play very smart all night long,” Heat winger Lance Bouma bluntly summarized. “It ended up costing us in the end.”
The Heat and Admirals came into Saturday’s action as the AHL’s two stingiest defensive teams – Abbotsford having surrendered just eight goals over their first five games of the season, and Milwaukee giving up seven in four.
Thus, it was no surprise that scoring chances were at a premium.
The Heat broke the ice on a power play just past the midway point of the second period. Blueliner Clay Wilson wheeled into the offensive zone and got the puck to Greg Nemisz, who made a lovely cross-crease pass back to Wilson for a tap-in at the far side of the cage.
It felt for a while like one goal might be enough on this night, with Leland Irving standing tall between the Heat pipes and neither team able to generate much offensively.
But early in the third, the Admirals finally solved Irving. After the Heat failed to clear the zone, Kyle Wilson hopped off the bench and launched a wrist shot, which was deflected by Latta past the Abby keeper, who had no chance on the play.
Then, with Heat defenceman T.J. Brodie in the box for interference, Bartley’s low blast from the right point found its way into the cage through a crowd. On the very next shift, Beck jammed the puck under Irving on a goalmouth scramble.
“Irv did what he could to keep us in the game for a long time, and we just got undisciplined there for a little bit,” Bouma observed.
Goals have been tough to come by for the Heat, who have bulged the twine just 12 times in six games. Heat head coach Troy Ward gave the Admirals a lot of credit for his team’s offensive struggles on Saturday.
“One of the biggest differences for them was, they blocked a lot of shots,” Ward said. “I thought we did some really good things in the offensive zone, but we struggled getting pucks through.”
All six of the Heat’s games to this point in the season have come on weekends – a “college schedule,” Ward called it. He believes the long breaks between games has been a factor in his team’s slow offensive start.
“It hasn’t been real conducive to getting into a flow,” he said. “When you’re a rhythm-type player like (Paul) Byron or (Dustin) Sylvester . . . you need to play every other day. That’s when you’re at your best.
“I’m looking forward to getting on the road and having us play every other day.”
Saturday’s game marked the first game action in over a year for Raitis Ivanans, who was assigned to the Heat by the Calgary Flames on Thursday. The Latvian enforcer missed the vast majority of last season after suffering a concussion in a fight with Steve McIntyre of the Edmonton Oilers on opening night.
Ivanans saw 4:43 of ice time skating on the fourth line with Gaelan Patterson and John Armstrong, and made his presence felt in the first period with a big hit on Milwaukee’s Jani Lajunen.
“I’m just glad I can play hockey again,” he said. “It’s been a long road to get this first game in.
“It wasn’t easy, and no one wants to go through that.”
Milwaukee improved to 4-0-0-1, while Abbotsford fell to 4-2-0-0.
The Heat had won the opener of the two-game set on Friday, but failed to complete the sweep. That’s proven a difficult feat for the Heat over their first two-plus seasons in Abbotsford.
“I haven’t remembered too many series last year where we totally dominated a team, both Friday and Saturday,” Ward noted. “So when you don’t make it a difficult place to play, you don’t hold people accountable for their ice. Well, then they’re going to feel good here.
“You’re not going to win hockey games when you have just a few guys stepping forward and the rest of the guys are just along for the ride. That’s been the case, whether it was the Sunday game (last week vs. Rockford) where we lost, and same thing tonight.”
• Ivanans drew into the lineup in place of Quintin Laing. The Heat captain missed the game because of a family situation, Ward said.
• Heat centre Byron, who had been ejected from Friday’s game after knocking Milwaukee’s Ryan Thang into the end boards from behind, was in the lineup on Saturday. There had been no word from the league on possible supplemental discipline.
Thang, thankfully, was also able to play – he did not return to Friday’s game after absorbing the hit from Byron, but he saw 16:14 of ice time Saturday.
• Saturday’s attendance was 2,422.
• The Heat embark on a four-game road trip this week, beginning Wednesday against the Toronto Marlies.