A major penalty whistled on Devin DiDiomete by referee Terry Koharski with just 4:17 remaining in a tied game proved to be the difference on Wednesday as the Manitoba Moose struck twice on the power play in the final two minutes to defeat the Hartford Wolf Pack 4-2 in Hartford. Tommy Pyatt scored both goals for the home team, with Patrick Rissmiller adding two helpers. Miika Wiikman made 27 saves, earning the loss in his return to the line up after a five game absence.
With the win the North Division-leading Moose moved into first place over all in the AHL.
Pyatt gave the Wolf Pack the early lead, just 54 seconds in, when he dug free the rebound of Rissmiller’s shot from the high slot and tucked it behind Manitoba standout goaltender Cory Schneider, who leads the AHL in both goals against and save percentage.
The Pack held the lead through the five minute mark of the second period when Jason Krog, who’d finish with three assists, found the puck behind the goal line to the left of Wiikman’s net. Last year’s playoff MVP fed Michael Grabner in the right circle for the first of Grabner’s two goals on the night at 5:14.
At 13:13 Manitoba defenseman Nolan Baumgartner got a stick on a Rissmiller centering pass, but deflected it right to Wolf Pack captain Greg Moore. The 24-year old forward, who spent the game on Rissmiller’s right wing after playing most of the past season and a half at center, turned and fired the puck toward the net, where Pyatt was waiting to deflect it past Schneider in mid-air for his 13th of the season.
The Pack’s second lead wouldn’t last long, as Baumgartner redeemed himself 1:39 later with his seventh goal of the season. The veteran defenseman chipped the puck past Bobby Sanguinetti along the left side boards and blew by the Pack rookie to pick it up behind the goal line and tuck it past Wiikman on the short side.
The two teams entered the third period tied at two, having put up an even seventeen shots on goal apiece. Hartford battled hard and held the slight edge in play in the period, drawing their only two power plays of the game in the frame. But at 15:43 Koharski inexplicably whistled DiDiomete for a 5-minute major interference penalty after he hit a Moose defenseman a split-second late deep in the Manitoba zone. It was only the fourth penalty Koharski assessed all night, and it would decide the outcome of the game.
The Wolf Pack put forth a valiant effort on the PK, killing the first two and a half minutes with near-mechanical precision. That changed when Koharski — apparently concerned he hadn’t done enough to influence the outcome of what had otherwise been an excellent game — got in the way of a Wolf Pack clearing pass, allowing the Moose to keep the home team pinned in their own zone. Seconds later Grabner took a pass from Baumgartner and scored his 21st of the year with a slap shot from the right point.
The goal took the wind out of the Pack’s sails, and 31 seconds later Guillaume Desbiens beat Wiikman with a backhander to make it 4-2.
Wednesday’s loss cost the Pack the opportunity to pull ahead of Portland and into sole possession of second place in the Atlantic Division. They remain four points behind first place Providence and one ahead of fourth place Worcester, but all three teams now hold a game in hand. Fifth place Lowell, who’ve had the Pack’s number all season, are only four points back, with two games in hand.
Hartford face the Lake Erie Monsters at home on Friday night before hosting a Saturday rematch with the Moose.
Highlights are available from AHL Live.
1. Pyatt (12) (Rissmiller) 0:54
2. Grabner (20) (Krog, Jaffray) 5:14
2. Pyatt (13) (Moore, Rissmiller) 13:13
2. Baumgartner (7) (Desbiens) 14:52
3. Grabner (21) (Baumgartner, Krog) 18:24 (PP)
3. Desbiens (13) (Krog, Jaffray) 19:05 (PP)
Dupont – Anisimov – Parenteau
Pyatt – Rissmiller – Moore
DiDiomete – Ouellette – Wiese
Ford – Sugden
Potter – Sanguinetti
Nightingale – Sauer
Denisov – Fahey
Wiikman / Zaba
1. Michael Grabner
2. Tommy Pyatt
3. Nolan Baumgartner
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