The Hartford Wolf Pack made it look easy as they topped the Albany River Rats by a final score of 5-1 in the New York capital on Friday night. Mark Bell and Artem Anisimov each scored twice and P.A. Parenteau added a goal and two assists to keep the Wolf Pack one point ahead of the second place Providence Bruins, who also won against Worcester. The Bruins travel to Hartford on Saturday night for a huge Atlantic Division match up that could determine first place in the division.
Matt Zaba made his return to the Wolf Pack net after missing eight games with a hand injury suffered on March 7th against Springfield. It was the perfect game to ease him back into action, as he faced only 20 shots, and only a few of them of the challenging variety. Miika Wiikman missed his second game with a lower body injury suffered last Saturday against Springfield. Maxime Daigneault backed Zaba up on the bench,
The Wolf Pack, which hadn’t played since last Sunday’s 5-3 loss in Providence, got off to a slow start against the Rats, falling behind at the 1:45 mark when Mike Oullette lost the puck to Ryan Weston along the boards just inside the Pack blue line. Weston quickly dished it to Tomas Pospisil, who beat Zaba from the top of the left circle.
Just past the midpoint of the period leading scorer Parenteau took a hip check as he entered the Albany zone and fell hard against the boards, requiring the attention of Hartford trainer Damien Hess. He got the ultimate revenge on his next shift when at 14:29 he scored his 29th of the season. Rookie defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti, who finished the night with two assists, cut in from the right point with the puck, carrying it down low on the left side before backhanding it to Parenteau on the goal line to the left of Albany goalkeeper Justin Peters. Parenteau found a hole between Peters and the post from the near impossible angle, tying the score at one.
Anisimov tallied his first of two on the night with only 46 seconds remaining in the period with a beautiful individual effort. The Pack’s leading goal scorer stripped the puck from an Albany player in center ice and carried it down the left side on a partial breakaway, shielding it from an River Rat defender as he cut across the crease and finished on the backhand for his 31st of the season. The goal would stand as the game-winner, giving the big Russian center his team-leading eighth of the season, ranking him just one behind league-leader Ryan Vesce.
The lone goal of the second period came off the stick of Bell, who took a pass from Patrick Rissmiller in the high slot and fired a hard snap shot past Peters. The puck hit the bar in the back of the net with such velocity that it ricocheted straight out, causing spectators to wonder if it had instead hit the post. But referee Ryan Fraser was in perfect position to see the play and immediately signaled the goal. It was Bell’s 15th of the season and third in 11 games with the Wolf Pack.
Bell wasn’t done there. The Pack would improve their 10th-ranked power play to 18.3% with two man-advantage goals in two third period opportunities, leaving them 2-for-4 in the game. In a similar play to his first goal, Bell took Parenteau’s feed from the goal line at the hashmarks and snapped a shot over Peter’s glove at 9:33.
Anisimov got the Wolf Pack’s second power play marker of the period, and the final tally in the game, at 17:52. Defenseman Brian Fahey put the puck on net from the right point, and Anisimov was waiting at the right side of the crease to swat the rebound behind Peters for his 32nd of the year.
The Wolf Pack outshot the River Rats 8-7 in the first and 8-6 in the third, while the Rats took a 7-6 advantage in the middle frame, giving Hartford a combined advantage of 22-20. The Pack penalty kill thwarted all five of Albany’s power play attempts to improve to 82.7%, tying it for 15th in the league.
Elsewhere in the Atlantic Division, Portland and Worchester both won to move within a point of third place Manchester, which held steady at 76 points, 12 back of Hartford’s 88, after their loss to Providence. The Devils, who were on the losing side in Portland, are now five points back of the fourth and final playoff spot with just nine games remaining. The Devils could help the Pack out on Saturday, as a Wolf Pack win over Providence coupled with a Lowell victory over Worcester could clinch a playoff berth for the Pack for the 12th consecutive season.
Highlights of the game are available from AHL Live.
- Brock McBride, who signed an amateur try-out contract with the Wolf Pack on Wednesday after concluding his college career with St. Lawrence University, made his professional debut. He was effective on the forecheck and strong along the boards in limited minutes centering the Pack’s fourth line.
- Dale Weise, who was having a bit of an offensive break out with 7 points in his last 9 matches, including a four point night in Springfield, missed the game with a broken thumb suffered in Sunday’s loss to Providence. On Thursday, Weise was named the Wolf Pack’s 2008-09 American Specialty/AHL Man of the Year in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the community. He served as color man for Bob Crawford on the game broadcast.
- Devin DiDiomete faced the much bigger Benn Olson in the game’s only fight shortly after the hit on Parenteau in the first period. DiDiomete made it respectable despite spotting Olson 6 inches and 15 pounds, but was the clear loser in the bout.
- Parenteau’s three points give him 78 in 72, good for fourth in the league. Anisimov is sixth with 73 points in 73 games.
- Anisimov’s 32 goals tie him for third in the league with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Chris Minard. He’s the only player under 24 years of age amongst the top 10 goal scorers or point scorers.
- Rissmiller’s two assists in the game give him 13 points in his last 10 games, and 48 points in 52 games played this season.
1. Pospisil (2) (Weston) 1:45
1. Parenteau (29) (Sanguinetti, Rissmiller) 14:29
1. Anisimov (31) 19:14
2. Bell (15) (Rissmiller, Parenteau) 11:57
3. Bell (16) (Parenteau, Sanguinetti) 9:33 (PP)
3. Anisimov (32) (Fahey, Pyatt) 17:52 (PP)
Bell – Rissmiller – Parenteau
Dupont – Anisimov – Ouellette
Pyatt – Crowder – Owens
DiDiomete – McBride – Sugden
Potter – Sanguinetti
Denisov – Urquhardt
Nightingale – Fahey
Zaba / Daigneault
1. P.A. Parenteau
2. Mark Bell
3. Tomas Pospisil
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