Usually a split on home ice for a higher-seeded playoff team isn't a bad thing. That's not the case for the top-ranked Manchester Monarchs who, at no fault of their own, face the challenge of winning two road games this week against the eighth-seeded Admirals at the Norfolk Scope Arena.
"It doesn't seem right, but those decisions are beyond our control," said head coach Mark Morris of the American Hockey League playoff schedule which gives Norfolk the home ice advantage for the rest of the series.
Game 3 of the best-of-five 2014 Calder Cup Eastern Conference quarterfinals series resumes Wednesday at 7:15 p.m. Game 4 will be held Friday at 7:30 p.m. and if needed, the decisive Game 5 will be played Saturday at 7:15 p.m.
Last Friday Manchester, behind goalie J.F. Berube's 30-save performance, captured Game 1 with a 2-0 triumph at the Verizon Wireless Arena. On Saturday the Admirals rallied back from a two-goal deficit for a 3-2 win.
Wednesday's game looms big because the loser will be forced to win the last two games on consecutive nights to advance.
Morris, now in his eighth season with the Monarchs, said his teams over the years have conquered challenges and he welcomes this one. "We've overcome bigger odds especially over the last couple of seasons," said Morris. "Last year we won our last six games to qualify for the playoffs. The year before we did the same, winning six of our final seven. We have to bring our A-game to Norfolk and approach this week one shift at a time."
Morris said the first two games could have gone either way.
"In Game 1 we executed on the few opportunities we had to score and Berube played very well," said Morris. "Conversely, John Gibson (Nolfolk goalie) ended up shutting the door on us Saturday after we got off to a strong start."
Morris said Norfolk's seeding is misleading in that they're a tough match-up for many teams across the league.
"They've got size, toughness and, not to mention, players on their roster who have NHL experience," said Morris.
Gibson got called up to Anaheim earlier this month. In his NHL debut, he shutout Vancouver 3-0 and, in his next outing, helped the Ducks clinch the Pacific Division with a 5-2 win against San Jose. He also beat Colorado 3-2 in overtime before getting transferred back to Norfolk.
"They have a veteran center in Dave Steckel, who can win you a ton of draws, and the two Swedes, William Karlsson and Andre Petersson, have been nice additions for them," said Morris. "We have to just play to our identity which is speed, quickness and skill. It has served us well to this point in our season."
One area Morris said Manchester needs to shore up is its power play, which was 0-for-4 Saturday. "We were ineffective Saturday on the power play," said Morris. "We didn't get it done and it's been a sore spot for us. We need to be grittier, need to have guys willing to win the puck. We've preached it all year."
Still Manchester has shown the ability to bounce back after losses, losing consecutive games just five times all season. "It starts with Berube, right through our roster," sais Morris. "We've been consistent all season long and that's a good thing for us heading to Norfolk."