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Admirals drop third consecutive Scope playoff game, trail series as they return to Adirondack

NORFOLK — Ryan Smith smashed in the deciding goal for the third straight time in the series to lift the Adirondack Thunder to a 2-1 win over the Norfolk Admirals in Game 5 of the North Division finals of the ECHL Ke lly Cup playoffs.

Shane Harper popped into the left circle and slid a pass to an open Smith streaking from the right side, who then snapped in a goal past Admirals goaltender Yaniv Perets. It was Smith’s seventh point in the series for the Thunder, who lead 3-2 after going behind 2-0 following the initial home stand at the Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls, New York.

“I was making a line change,” Admirals coach Jeff Carr said. “It’s unfortunate. It was a heck of a hockey game between two great teams, a 1 vs. 2 matchup.  We had the lead 1-0 and they get two.”

Josh McDougall had given the Admirals the lead midway through the second period after collecting a pass from Carson Golder deep on the right side of the offensive zone. McDougall then cut directly in line with the cage, zigged and zagged the puck back and forth and then flicked a wrist shot past Adirondack goalie Isaac Poulter.

The Thunder had started to turn up the intensity of their attack at the beginning of the period, and the deficit spurred them on to the second intermission. They finished with three power plays in the second stanza and a 13-6 advantage in shots — compared to the two penalty-kill chances in the first period, during which they were outshot 9-5.

The Adirondack Thunder’s Tristan Ashbrook and the Norfolk Admirals’ Denis Smirnov battle for the puck at Scope during Game 5 of the ECHL North Division finals on Saturday. STEPHEN M. KATZ/STAFF

Momentum shifted back to the Admirals early in the final period when a slashing penalty on Matt Steif, signaling a power play, brought a roar from the 5,200-plus crowd at Scope, as did another big shot by McDougall from the point. Then midway through the third, Golder and McDougall tried to connect on another scoring opportunity that was deflected high above the boards.

Then with a little less than eight minutes remaining, Adirondack’s Yushiroh Hirano blasted a puck into the Admirals’ crease from the left near the blue line. Perets got his pads to stop most of the force from the slap shot, but the puck squirted through his legs as though in slow motion, just over the line enough to trigger the red flashing lights. Two-and-a-half minutes later, Smith silenced the crowd again with his goal.

“We didn’t want to give up anything cheap and easy, and I think they got a little bit of a cheap and easy goal that squeaked through,” Carr said. “And the next one, we’re on a line change. Smith gets loose and that’s what he does well — he scores goals.”

Holder and Perets each finished with 21 saves.

Added Carr: “Poulter had a 96% save percentage. Yaniv played great — just two goals that snuck through. Just didn’t close the 5-hole fast enough. Tough one for him as he was battling all night, same with Poulter. It was just really good playoff hockey that was very unfortunate for us.”

The series shifts back to New York for Game 6 Tuesday night at 7. If necessary, Game 7 is scheduled for Wednesday.

The Admirals entered the homestand on a four-game winning streak against Adirondack, including two victories dating back to the last regular-season meeting between the two teams. Adirondack seemingly has seized momentum back with this current three-game streak, but has lost six of seven home games to the Admirals.

The series winner will advance to face the Florida Everblades in the Eastern Conference finals. Based in Estero, in southwest Florida near Fort Myers, they beat the Orlando Solar Bears 2-1 in overtime to clinch the South Division finals 4-1.

“They’ve been down two games in this series and now we’re down one. That’s the way we’re looking at it,” Carr said. “We love playing in their rink. That’s probably the most success we’ve had, and that’s the rink we get to go to and probably have some fun up there.

“I told the guys there’s no reason to hold your head low or be disappointed. We get to play in mid-May. They’ve been through so much, and this is another chapter of the story. We’ll load the bus like we did last week and try to take two like we did last week.”

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