Mark Bell’s shorthanded goal with 20.2 seconds remaining in the third period gave the Hartford Wolf Pack a dramatic 4-3 win over the Manchester Monarchs on Wednesday night, and, coupled with Providence’s victory over Lowell, left the Pack just two points short of clinching their first Atlantic Division title since the 2003-2004 season. Conversely, the loss pushed the Monarchs to the brink of playoff elimination, as they remain four points behind fourth place Portland with just two games remaining for both teams.
For the second straight game the Wolf Pack penalty kill struggled, surrendering goals on Manchester’s first two power play tries. After killing off a pair of third period hooking calls against newcomer Matt Schepke, who had signed an Amateur Try-Out contract with the Pack earlier in the day, the PK unit was faced with defending a desperate team for the final sixty seconds of regulation after Brock McBride was whistled for a phantom hooking call at 19:00. Rather than surrendering its sixth power play goal in the last two games, the penalty killers struck back, as they have 18 times previously this season. On Wednesday it was the forward unit of Patrick Rissmiller and Bell doing the damage. Rissmiller controlled the puck in the Pack zone and broke out 2-on-1 with his fellow veteran Bell. Once inside the Manchester zone, Rissmiller fed the puck through the lone defender for Bell’s easy tap in from the left side of the net.
The hockey gods were smiling on the Wolf Pack on this night, as it was an own goal scored by Manchester defenseman Joe Piskula that tied the game in the second period and put the Pack in position to score the dramatic late-game winner. Artem Anisimov got credit for the unassisted tally at 13:11 of the second period after he lost the puck to Monarch defenseman Drew Bagnall along the boards inside the Manchester blue line. Bagnall passed the puck back to his defense partner, stationed in front of his own net, with Anisimov giving chase. As Hartford’s leading scorer approached, the second year blueliner completely misfired his pass, putting it directly between Monarch goaltender Jonathan Bernier’s legs. As the last Wolf Pack player to touch the puck, Anisimov was credited with his 36th of the season, placing him 3rd in the league goal-scoring race. The second-year pro’s 79 points in 78 games rank him fourth over all in AHL scoring.
Rissmiller had opened the scoring at 7:56 of the first period when he took a pass from Bell in the high slot, skated in on net and made a nice fake to his backhand to beat Bernier high on the glove side for his 13th of the season.
Jordan Owens took a boarding call 15 seconds later, setting the scene for the tying goal by California native Gabe Gauthier, who scored on a one-timer from the left side of the slot off David Meckler’s centering pass from behind the goal line.
Despite dominating the frame, the Wolf Pack went to the locker room at the end of the first down 2-1 thanks to a late-period Monarch goal. With just over a minute remaining the Pack iced the puck, resulting in a defensive zone draw. Hartford controlled the puck off the draw, but Slovak winger Vladimir Drevecky was able to steal it from rookie defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti at the left side of the net. The second year pro then sent a centering pass out to the slot from behind the goal line, setting up Meckler for a near carbon copy of the goal he’d set Gautier up for earlier in the session.
The Wolf Pack tied the score at 2-2 at 8:33 of the second period off a textbook faceoff win in the offensive zone following a Manchester icing. Mike Ouellette won the draw back to David Stich at the right point and the 19-year old Czech fed it across the blue line to Michael Sauer for a hard, low slap shot. Bernier made the initial save, but Ouellette was waiting to put home the rebound, giving him his 15th of the season.
Once again the Wolf Pack followed up a goal with a quick trip to the penalty box and a power play goal against. With Stich, who’d just earned his second assist in three games since joining the team late last week, off for hooking, Thomas Hickey’s flubbed pass found its way directly on to the stick of teammate Matt Moulson, who was able to beat Zaba through a screen from the top of the circles at 9:51 to give the Monarchs a 3-2 lead.
That set the stage for Anisimov’s fluke goal 3:20 later and the late-game winner by Bell. In between, Zaba was forced to come up big as the Monarchs peppered him with 15 shots in the third period. The Wolf Pack held the shot advantage in the first two periods topping their hosts 13-9 in the first and 9-7 in the second while mustering 11 in the third for a 33-31 advantage in the game. Zaba stopped 28 shots en route to earning the game’s third star honors.
What was most impressive about the win was that the Pack was able to pull it off despite missing five regulars up front. Including the recently-added Schempke, the Wolf Pack was able to dress only 10 forwards, as Dale Weise and Brandon Sugden joined the list of absent forwards that includes top offensive threat P.A. Parenteau, captain Greg Moore, and power play point man Tommy Pyatt. The Pack dressed eight defensemen, though David Urquart played primarily as a forward and Stich saw only limited ice time.
The Wolf Pack travel to Lowell on Friday for their final game against the troublesome Devils, who’ll be looking to play the role of spoiler after being eliminated from playoff contention last weekend. Providence will be in Portland, trying to prevent the Pirates from gaining the single point they need to clinch the final Atlantic Division playoff birth and end Manchester’s season.
Video highlights are available from AHL Live.
1. Rissmiller (13) (Bell, McBride) 7:56
1. Gauthier (11) (Meckler, Azevedo) 9:20 (PP)
1. Meckler (14) (Dravecky) 18:53
2. Ouellette (15) (Sauer, Stich) 8:33
2. Moulson (19) (Hickey, Preissing) 9:51 (PP)
2. Anisimov (36) 13:11
3. Bell (18) (Rissmiller) 19:39 (SH)
Dupont – Anisimov – Owens
Bell – Rissmiller – Crowder
DiDiomete – Ouellette – Urquhart
McBride – Sheptke
Potter – Sanguinetti
Nightingale – Sauer
Denisov – Fahey
Zaba / Wiikman
1. Mark Bell
2. David Meckler
3. Matt Zaba
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