The Lowell Devils traveled to the Connecticut capital on Sunday afternoon needing a win in order to keep their fading playoff hopes alive. They got the win, defeating the Hartford Wolf Pack 4-3, but were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs anyway when Portland defeated Springfield a short time later.
The loss, coupled with Providence’s shootout win against Portland on Saturday and regulation victory over Manchester on Sunday reduced the gap between the second place Bruins and the Wolf Pack to just two points, with each team having three games remaining.
Of greater concern to the Pack is the ever-growing list of injuries and scratches. Hartford was once again without the services of forwards P.A. Parenteau (undisclosed), Tommy Pyatt (personal), and Greg Moore (concussion), and the trio were joined by defenseman Michael Sauer, who was a last-minute scratch for undisclosed reasons. Brandon Sugden left the game in the first period with an undisclosed injury, cutting the number of available forwards on the bench to ten.
Without Sauer, a stalwart on the Pack penalty kill, the unit that was so good against Providence on Friday struggled mightily, surrendering three power play goals on eight attempts — four if you count disallowed goals — though the team did add to its league-leading shorthanded goal total with a Jordan Owens tally in the third period.
That the team wasn’t sharp following their emotional thrashing of Providence on Friday was quickly evident when defenseman Vladimir Denisov put a pass right up the middle of the ice that was picked off by Lowell winger Vladimir Zharkov in the neutral zone less than two and a half minutes in. Zharkov carried into the Pack zone and blasted a slapshot past goaltender Matt Zaba’s stick side from the top of the circles for the unassisted marker just 2:27 into the opening period.
The scenerio was almost repeated by Lowell’s other Russian winger, Alexander Vasyunov, at 7:34, when the Yaroslavl native picked off David Urquhart’s past along the offensive zone blue line to take off on a partial break. In this case Urquhart was able to get back and make an incredible diving play to swipe the puck away before Vasyunov got the shot off.
Barry Tallakson scored the first of two Devil goals that were waived off at 9:42 when he deflected a shot from the point past Zaba with a high stick during the first of four minor penalties defenseman Jared Nightingale would take in the game.
The Pack got their best scoring chance of he period just as the penalty expired when try-out forward Brock McBride made an beautiful move to get around a Lowell defender and skate in alone on Devils’ netminder Jeff Frazee. Frazee stopped McBride’s backhand attempt to ensure his team would take the 1-0 lead to the locker room at the end of the period. After 20 minutes, the teams were even with 13 shots apiece.
Patrick Rissmiller tied the score at 4:24 of the second when he took a feed off the right wing boards from Paul Crowder and beat Frazee glove-side high with a perfectly placed backhander from in close. It was Rissmiller’s 12th of the season and gave him 15 points in his last 14 games.
Lowell had a second goal waived off at 6:10 when Zharkov fell into Zaba moments before a shot from the slot hit the twine behind him. Koharski immediately waived the goal off, claiming goaltender interference. It was a rare gift from the zebra, as the replay seemed to indicate that Zharkov was knocked off balance by 19-year old try-out defenseman David Stich as he crashed the crease.
Artem Anisimov had the chance to give the Wolf Pack the lead at 7:09 when he broke in alone on Frazee, but the Wolf Pack’s leading goal scorer put a backhand-to-forehand fake off the outside of the net.
Instead it was the Devils that took the 2-1 lead on the power play at 9:21 of the period. With Crowder in the box for holding, Matt Halischuk walked out from the left corner and slid the puck into the crease, where Zaba was unable to control it before it squeaked out on the opposite side and was tapped in by pinching pointman Rosario Ruggeri.
Hartford answered 1:22 later. Crowder got his second assist of the game when he collected a lose puck behind the net and centered it through the slot where it slipped through a tangle of bodies all the way up to defenseman Corey Potter at the top of the circles. Potter fired a slap shot through the crowd in front and over a sprawling Frazee to tie the score on the power play.
The visitors regained the lead just over four minutes later when, seconds after Stich was sent to the box for elbowing, Pascal Rheaume tipped Jon DiSalvatore’s shot from the center point between Zaba’s pads for his 11th of the season. The period ended with the Devils once again up by one on the scoreboard, having outshot their hosts by a 13-12 margin.
DiSalvatore scored one of his own at 3:51 of the final period when he blasted a slap shot past Zaba’s stick side while Nightingale was in the box for a delay of game call earned when he shot the puck over the glass 12 seconds earlier.
The Wolf Pack’s penalty troubles got even worse at 9:39 when Denisov was smacked with a five-minute major and a game misconduct for boarding after he plastered Reaume from behind into the neutral zone boards. But the Pack PK struck shorthanded to cut the Devils lead to one just 26 seconds into the kill. Jordan Owens carried the puck in on a 2-on-1 with Mike Ouellette before faking a pass to a trailing Potter and beating Frazee up top with a wrist shot from the right circle.
Nightingale’s fourth and final penalty of the night put his team down two men for a full two minutes on the next shift when he caught a Devils player with a high stick in front of the net. Despite missing Sauer and the ejected Denisov, another stalwart on the kill, the Pack PK unit game up big, killing off the two minutes of 5-on-3 and the remaining 1:57 of 5-on-4 time to head into the final five minutes of the game with good momentum. But another penalty at 17:29, this time on Rissmiller for holding, left the Pack a man short for all but the final 31 seconds of regulation, effectively dashing any hopes they might have had of tying the game.
The Wolf Pack are back in action on Wednesday when they travel to Manchester to face the fifth place Monarchs, who are three points back of Worcester for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Atlantic Division and will be desperate for points. Lowell will have another opportunity to play spoiler to the Pack on Friday, when they host them for the final game of the 8-game season series.
Video highlights are available from AHL Live.
1. Zharkov (11) 2:27
2. Rissmiller (12) (Crowder, Sanguinetti) 4:24
2. Ruggeri (2) (Halischuk, Davis) 9:21 (PP)
2. Potter (10) (Crowder, Sanguinetti) 10:43 (PP)
2. Rheaume (11) (DiSalvatore, Tallackson) 14:51 (PP)
3. DiSalvatore (20) (Bergfors, Magnan) 3:51 (PP)
3. Owens (12) (Ouellette) 10:05 (SH)
Bell – Rissmiller – Crowder
Dupont – Anisimov – Weise
McBride – Ouellette – Owens
DiDiomete – Sugden
Potter – Sanguinetti
Denisov – Nightingale
Urquhardt – Fahey
Zaba / Wiikman
1. Jon DiSalvatore
2. Pascal Rheaume
3. Jordan Owens
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