Third period goals by Tommy Pyatt, Sean Avery and Mike Ouellette erased a three goal lead for the Portland Pirates and set the Hartford Wolf Pack up for their second consecutive shootout victory, and their sixth straight win over all, in Portland Saturday night. Artem Anisimov and Patrick Rissmiller scored in the shootout, while Matt Zaba stoned four of five shooters after stopping 29 regulation shots to give Hartford the 4-3 victory.
The Wolf Pack had traveled to Portland with concerns that their second leading scorer, Anisimov, might not be able available after leaving the ice with an upper body injury late in Friday’s game against Manchester. Instead, it was leading scorer P.A. Parenteau who the Pack had to do without, after a shot deflected off the crossbar and hit the former Pirate in the back of the head during warm-ups. The puck struck the 26-year old Hull, Quebec native below the helmet, causing him to temporarily black out. He skated briefly at the end of warm-ups but was held out of the game for precautionary reasons.
If there’s any doubt as to the impact losing either of those players for an extended period would have, consider this: there is a 26-point gap on the Wolf Pack leader board between second place Anisimov’s 62 points and third place Rissmiller at 36.
Missing their offensive leader, the Pack spotted the Pirates a two goal first period lead. It wasn’t for lack of effort, as they matched their hosts shot-for-shot (13) and generated as many scoring chances as they gave up. In what has been a season-long theme, penalties got them in trouble when Jordan Owens was whistled for hooking at 5:05 with Brandon Sugden already in the box. On the delayed call, with the Pirates skating with a 6-on-4 advantage, rookie Tim Kennedy was alone on the doorstep to backhand the rebound of Marc-Andre Gragnani’s sharp angle shot over Zaba’s glove for his 14th of the season.
Hartford got an extended two man advantage of their own two minutes later when Gragnani and Dylan Hunter were sent off 23 seconds apart. The Pack’s best scoring opportunity came with 22 seconds remaining in Hunter’s hooking call when captain Greg Moore shot off the cross bar with goaltender Jeff Jakaitis down and out. Jakaitis, who was making his AHL debut, spent the first two-thirds of the season with the Rangers’ ECHL affiliate in Charlotte after starting the season in Wolf Pack training camp in September.
Portland extended their lead at 15:14 when Marek Zagrapan picked up the rebound of Colin Murphy’s shot and snapped it on Zaba’s cage from the left circle. Zaba got a glove on the shot, but managed only to tip up in the air and watch helplessly as it fell into the goal behind him.
Things only got worse for the visitors in the second period. Just 1:23 in Avery and defenseman Vladimir Denisov covered the same Portland forward, leaving Tyler Bouck wide open in the slot to bang home Aaron Slattengren’s pass from behind the goal line.
The penalty parade continued for the Wolf Pack in the middle period. Avery took back-to-back minors at 3:00 and 5:37 and then Corey Potter gave the Pirates 1:11 of 5-on-3 when he was whistled for slashing 49 seconds later. Devin DiDiomete gave the home side their fourth power play of the period at 13:32. But the Pack’s penalty kill, lead by Zaba, was flawless, preventing the three goal deficit from growing larger despite the Pirate’s 11-5 shot advantage in the period.
Hartford got their lone power play of period with 2:30 remaining, and came close to cutting the Pirate lead to two, but Moore hit iron for the second time in the game with less two minutes remaining.
Hartford carried the momentum generated by that late power play into the final period and quickly went to work erasing the three goal deficit. Pyatt got the comeback started when he scored his 14th of the season at 1:47 on a quick three-way passing play. Ouellette passed the puck out from behind the goal line to Tomas Zaborsky, who one-timed a pass to Pyatt at the right post for a deft deflection into the open side of the net.
The Pirates saw their lead evaporate midway through the period when the Wolf Pack tallied two quick goals in a span of 38 seconds. The first, following review, was credited to Avery, after the feisty winger helped Rissmiller’s blast from the right circle into the net after it trickled through Jakaitis at 10:12.
Zaborsky, who was a late addition to the Pack roster in place of Parenteau, added his second assist of the game — for his first multiple point game in the AHL — when he fed Ouellette in the slot from the left corner. Ouellette scored his 11th of the season with a hard wrist shot that beat Jakaitis high on the glove side.
With two valuable points on the line the division rivals traded opportunities as regulation time ticked down. Then, with 1:05 remaining, Avery put his team in tough spot when he took his third minor of the game, an elbowing call that was likely influenced by his yapping at the ref (and Pirate bench) during the previous stop in play. That set Zaba up for the save of the game when he stoned Mathieu Darche on a point-blank chance from the slot with 30 seconds remaining.
Thanks to the AHL’s new one minute overtime penalty rule, the Pack needed only to kill off 28 of the 55 seconds remaining in Avery’s late-game penalty in the extra period. Portland managed only one shot with the 4-on-3 advantage, a try from the right circle which Zaba easily blockered out of play.
Avery made up for his late-game penalty when he drew a call on Portland’s Tyler Bouck with 53 seconds remaining in OT, but after Jakaitis made two big stops on Pack shooters, the Dallas Stars property (for now) nearly cost the his current team the game when he had his pocket picked at the Portland blue line with seven second remaining. Fortunately, Avery was able to track down Darche and prevent the 33-year old winger from getting a good shot away as the time wound down.
That sent the Wolf Pack to their second shootout in as many days. On Friday Zaba stoned all five shooters in his first ever AHL shootout and Parenteau scored the lone goal to give Hartford the win. On Saturday they were without Parenteau, but did have Anisimov, who’d missed Friday’s shootout. After Zaba stopped Mark Mancari on Portland’s first attempt the 20-year old center used his patented backhand deke to the top shelf to give the Pack the lead 1-0.
Nathan Gerbe lost the puck before getting a shot off on his try, while Jakaitis stopped Moore’s backhander and Pyatt’s five-hole bid. In between Zaba made a stick save on Kennedy’s shot. That set things up for Murphy, who partially fanned on his backhander. But the whiff fooled Zaba, and trickled between his pads to tie the skills competition at one.
Bobby Sanguinetti and Colton Fredder each had their backhand shot stopped, which set the table for Rissmiller to give the Pack their sixth straight victory. The 30-year old veteran didn’t disappoint, roofing a backhander just under the crossbar and sending the Pack home with a confidence building, come-from-behind win… and a four point lead over Pirates in the Atlantic Division standings. First place Providence lost to Philadelphia in a shootout on Saturday, leaving them two points ahead of the Wolf Pack, with one game in hand.
Portland faces fourth place Lowell on Sunday afternoon, while Providence travels to face Eastern Conference leading Hershey. The Pack get a rare Sunday off and will host their annual Tip-A-Player benefit before getting back to work on Wednesday when they host Worcester. With Avery expected to be placed on re-entry waivers Monday, and the NHL’s trade deadline coming up at 3pm on Wednesday, its likely the Pack’s roster will have a somewhat different look when they next take the ice.
1. Kennedy (14) (Gragnani, Murphy) 5:05 (PP)
1. Zagrapan (15) (Murphy) 15:14
2. Bouck (6) (Slattengren, Hunter) 1:23
3. Pyatt (14) (Ouellette, Zaborsky) 1:47
3. Avery (2) (Urquhart, Rissmiller) 10:12
3. Ouellette (11) (Zaborsky) 10:50
Dupont – Anisimov – Owens
Rissmiller – Avery – Moore
Pyatt – Ouellette – Zaborsky
DiDiomete – Weise – Sugden
Potter – Sanguinetti
Urquhart – Sauer
Denisov – Fahey
Zaba / Wiikman
1. Patrick Rissmiller
2. Tyler Bouck
3. Mike Ouellette
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