AHL Central News: Wild Take Stranglehold Over Admirals

The Central Division Semifinal between the Milwaukee Admirals and Iowa Wild was the final Calder Cup Playoff series to get started as the puck did not drop unit Sunday afternoon. Once the action did get underway, the Wild dominated the first two games of the series by outscoring the Admirals 13-1.

Wild Run Away with Game 1

These two teams could not have taken more opposite paths to get to the postseason. The Admirals earned a point in each of their last 14 games to shoot up to second place while the Wild endured an eight-game losing streak before winning their final three contests of the regular season.

The Wild received some major reinforcements when the NHL’s regular season came to an end as forwards Ryan Donato, Jordan Greenway and Luke Kunin were reassigned to the AHL. All three players made an impact in Sunday’s 7-0 beating of the Admirals in Game 1. In fact, 14 of the Wild’s 18 skaters picked up at least one point while goaltender Andrew Hammond made 29 saves for his first professional playoff shutout.

Cal O’Reilly scored the first Calder Cup Playoff goal in franchise history, 12:19 into the first period, to put the Wild up 1-0. The Wild’s leading scorer in the regular season stood alone at the far post and easily tapped in a feed from Gerry Mayhew for his first playoff goal since 2017 when he was a member of the Toronto Marlies.

Cal O'Reilly, Iowa Wild
Cal O’Reilly has been key to the Wild’s success all season long. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Both Hammond and Troy Grosenick had big first periods as the two teams combined for 27 shots on goal with O’Reilly’s being the only one that found the back of the net. The Wild took control of the game in the second period with three goals in less than seven minutes.

Mayhew doubled the lead 4:32 into the middle frame by finishing off a 2-on-1 rush with Will Bitten for his first career Calder Cup Playoff goal. Sam Anas made it 3-0 less than four minutes later after Mike Liambas forced a turnover at the blue line and sent Anas in on a partial breakaway. Kyle Rau fired home a feed from Matt Read to increase the lead to 4-0 at 11:24.

Following Rau’s goal, Grosenick was pulled for Tom McCullom after surrendering four goals on 26 shots. McCullom did not fare much better by allowing a trio of goals on 16 shots.

Rau was the first to get one past McCullom when he increased the lead to 5-0 midway through the third period. Kunin added a sixth goal less than a minute later with the assists going to Donato and Greenway for a trio of AHL postseason firsts.

The Wild’s seventh and final goal was scored by Colton Beck, the franchise’s leader in games played. Liambas picked up another assist on the play for his first career multi-point AHL playoff game. He was one of seven players to put up two points in the blowout victory.

Admirals Try to Learn While Wild Like Good Start

The loss marked just the second time since the Admirals joined the AHL in 2001 where they were shut out in the opening game of a playoff series. It happened one other time, back in 1990, when they were still playing in the IHL.

The lone bright spot in the defeat was Milwaukee’s penalty kill unit. They only allowed one goal in the Wild’s nine power-play chances, who finished the regular season with the second-best power play in the AHL.

“In the end, they outworked us and out-competed us and that was surprising because that hasn’t been an issue for us this year,” head coach Karl Taylor said after Monday’s practice. “I think we were surprised by the effort they put forth, so we need to match their compete and their will.”

Related – Milwaukee Admirals: History of the Lost Early Years

While the Wild enjoyed a great Calder Cup Playoff debut, head coach Tim Army knows it is just the first step in a long journey.

“It is a good start,” Army said after the victory. “We had a good week of practice. I was excited to see how they would start the game. And they were energized and ready to go.”

More of the Same in Game 2

The Admirals were able to keep Tuesday night’s game close through 40 minutes until the Wild blew the doors off with four goals in the final period of play. Five different players lit the lamp for Iowa as they head to Milwaukee needing just one win in the next three games to advance to the Central Division Finals.

Kunin’s second goal of the series opened the scoring with just 2:31 left in the opening period. Donato made a nice cross-ice pass to Kunin at the bottom of the left circle, where he beat Grosenick to the blocker side.

Justin Kirkland evened up the score just over a minute later with the Admirals first goal of the series. Anthony Richard picked up the rebound from his own shot, skated around the net and set up Kirkland for the easy tap-in goal.

The two teams looked to be headed into the third period still knotted at 1-1 until Read scored with just 10 seconds remaining in the middle stanza. Donato picked up another helper as his shot hit off the goal post and Read was in the perfect spot to knock home the rebound.

Kunin scored his second tally of the night, 5:34 into the third period, by firing a laser of a snap shot from the top of the circles past Grosenick. Just 64 seconds later, Rau forced a turnover and Mason Shaw drove past the Milwaukee defense before going top shelf to give the Wild and 4-1 lead.

Mayhew’s second goal in as many games increased the lead to 5-1 just over two minutes later. O’Reilly found Mayhew all alone at the back post for the easy conversion.

Gerald Mayhew, Iowa Wild
Gerald Mayhew’s regular-season success has carried over into the Calder Cup playoffs. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

After picking up a pair of assists in Game 1, Liambas capped off the scoring, in the final minute of the third period, with his first career Calder Cup playoff goal by depositing his own rebound into the Admirals’ net.

Wild are Having Fun at the Admirals Expense

“When you can score and you are creating opportunities, that’s when you are having fun,” said Donato, who has four assists in two games. “It could have been the other way. We could have been the team that lost both games by, whatever, six goals and it would have been a lot less fun.

“When you have chemistry and everybody is happy and positive, it’s contagious. I think that’s one of the reasons why we’re continuing to get hot.”

Minnesota Wild Ryan Donato
Ryan Donato has four assists in two games versus the Admirals. (Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)

Including the regular season, the Wild won all five games versus the Admirals at the Wells Fargo Arena, outscoring them 25-2. The remainder of the series shifts back to Milwaukee for Game 3 on Thursday night. If necessary, Game 4 will be on Friday and Game 5 on Monday.