The Pack lost a playoff preview tonight in Portland, locking themselves into a 2-3 matchup with the Pirates when they gave up the winning goal with just 22 seconds remaining in the game.
The game started better for the Pack than their past three have, as they managed to escape the first minute of play without going down a goal as they have in each of their last three games. Portland took the early edge in quantity of scoring chances, though the Pack probably had better quality opportunities, including a nice rush by Lauri Korpikoski who was able to split two defenseman and go in on Potland goaltender J.S. Aubin alone, only to have his weak backhander stopped. Starting at 8:03 referee Frederic L’Ecuyer started a parade to the penalty box, when he called Portland for two consecutive penalties, including a 6 second overlap that gave the Pack a brief 2 man advantage. The first was drawn by a strong drive from behind the net out front with the puck by Tomas Zaborsky, playing in his first professional game. But the Pack’s 2nd ranked power play came up short all night, no doubt due in part to the absence of leading scorer P.A. Parenteau, who was a late scratch, missing the game for precautionary reasons after taking a slash to the ankle in last night’s game in Providence.
Captain Andrew Hutchinson took an elbowing penalty to cancel out the second power play only 35 seconds into the second Portland penalty. The best opportunity of the ensuing 4-on-4 went to the Pack’s Mike Taylor, who broke in alone on Aubin but fired a backhander wide of the net. Hartford gave the Pirates one more chance on the power play in the period, at 17:23, when Corey Potter took a slashing call, but the Pack penalty kill would come up big, as it did all night. The Pirates finished the period with a 12-7 advantage in shots, as Aubin extended his shut out streak over the Pack to 4 periods, after shutting the Pack out when the two teams last met on March 2nd.
In the second, the Pirates got on the board first, just past the halfway point of the period, after Greg Moore put a hard pass into Zaborsky’s skates on a 3-on-2 rush, leading to a counter attack by the Pirates on which Wiikman made the initial save, but gave up a juicy rebound into the slot which Portland defenseman and 2nd team AHL All Star Brian Salcido was able to put in the open side of the net.
But the Pack would answer back just over three and a half minutes later when a line of Tomas Zaborsky, Jordan Owens and Mitch Fritz played a strong shift, pinning the Pirates deep in their zone with strong board work primarily by Zaborsky and Owens, who controlled the puck down low and fired a sharp angle shot on goal which deflected in off a Pirate defenseman while both Zaborsky and Fritz were wrecking havoc in the crease. Zaborsky would get the primary assist for his first professional point in his first professional game.
Tempers would flare at the final buzzer of the period when the players paired off for some pushing and shoving. The pairing of Dane Byers and Geoff Platt would get the feistiest, with both players eventually shaking off the gloves in the course their wrestling match. But as soon as Byers was able to get some separation, he dropped Platt with his first punch, annoying Platt’s teammate Jay Leach, who then mugged Greg Moore, who was reluctant to drop the gloves for fear of getting tossed for a secondary altercation, in return. Somehow the Pack managed to come out of the scrum a man down, after Byers was given a double minor for roughing while the other three each got two minutes each.
The Pack continued their parade to the penalty box in the third when, after killing off Byers extra minor, the they then had to kill off successive penalties by Jake Taylor (tripping), Josh Gratton (roughing), and Bobby Sanguinetti (holding) before Tyler Bouck took a hooking call to cancel out the final minute and 40 seconds of Sanguinetti’s penalty at 13:19. The string of penalties allowed Portland to spend the majority of the first half of the period in the Pack zone, and jump out to a 7-1 advantage in shots. The Pirates were clearly the harder-working team in the 3rd, and probably deserved a couple additional power play opportunities in the final half of the period. With 2:27 to go in the game Tyler Bouck and Josh Gratton took matching minors, for roughing and elbowing respectively, setting up a two minute 4-on-4 which would ultimately lead to the Pack’s demise. Just before the penalties expired the Pack committed 3 players to a 3-on-2 rush which was broken up just over the Pirate blue line, leading to a 3-on-2 counter attack by the Pirates. Salcido carried the puck into the Pack zone along the left boards and centered it into the slot where a crashing Andrew Ebbett was able to shovel the puck past Miika Wiikman despite being checked from behind. That gave the Pirates the 2-1 lead with only 22 seconds remaining in the game. The Pack would win the ensuing faceoff and pull Wiikman after getting the puck into the Portland zone, but a the Pirates controlled the puck and cleared the zone, sending Simon Ferguson in for the empty netter with just three seconds to play. The Pirates, who’d lost 5 of their last 6 games, finished the period with a 12-4 advantage in shots, and a 34-27 advantage for the game.
- Parenteau’s late scratch was said by broadcaster Bob Crawford to be precautionary. Crawford said if this had been a playoff game, Parenteau would have played.
- Parenteau’s absence allowed Mike Taylor, a planned scratch, to remain in the line up for another game
- Alex Bourret, who was set to return from a concussion yesterday, missed his second consecutive game with a stomach virus.
- Mitch Fritz has 3 points in 5 games since returning from early-season shoulder surgery
- The loss, coupled with Providence’s win, cemented the division standings, locking in a Hartford-Portland first round matchup.
2. Owens (7) (Zaborsky, Fritz) 13:33
Owens – Ouellette – Taylor
Byers – Anisimov – Jessiman
Korpikoski – Moore – Gratton
Zaborsky – Fritz
Potter – Hutchinson
Taylor – Sanguinetti
Pock – Sauer
Wiikman / LeNeveu
1. 19 Andrew Ebbett
2. 1 Jean-Sebastien Aubin
3. 22 Brian Salcido
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