The Hartford Wolf Pack traveled to Providence to face the second place Bruins on Friday night and came away with a decisive 6-0 shutout victory to take a six point lead in the race for the Atlantic Division title. Matt Zaba stopped 24 shots to earn his second shutout of the season, and Mike Ouellette potted two of three shorthanded goals the Pack would score, setting a franchise record shorthanded goals in a game.
Artem Anisimov scored a pair goals and added an assist to lead the Pack, who were without injured leading scorer P.A. Parenteau and second-year forward Tommy Pyatt, who returned home to Thunder Bay, Ontario to attend the funeral of his brother Taylor Pyatt’s fiance, Carly Bragnalo, who died in a car crash on Thursday.
Vladimir Denisov and Brodie Dupont each potted a goal and an assist and Jordan Owens picked up three assists in the Pack’s fourth straight win — and ninth in their last eleven. The team has lost just twice in regulation in its last 21 games, dating back to February 20th.
Referee Chris Ciamaga seemed intent on doing everything in his power to give the home side the advantage, whistling four straight penalties against the Pack in the first period and ten total in the game, while sending the Bruins to the box just four times all night. But the Wolf Pack penalty kill would not be bowed, making more franchise history by killing off all ten, and setting the tone by putting up two shorties in the first period alone.
Dupont scored the first just five minutes into the game. Anisimov rushed the puck up the right wing boards, fighting through a check at the blue line and skating deep into the Providence zone before firing a shot on net from a sharp angle. The puck hit goaltender Tuuka Rask’s pads and deflected out in front where it ricocheted off a crashing Dupont and into the net. Defenseman Corey Potter, fresh from his two-game stint with the parent New York Rangers and having scored his first NHL goal on Thursday, earned the secondary assist in his return.
The goal moved the Wolf Pack into the league lead in shorthanded goals-for, but they weren’t ready to stop there. Ciamaga sent Providence back on the power play at 8:13, and the Pack tallied their second shorthander 61 seconds later. Owens carried the puck into the Providence zone 1-on-2 and wristed a shot on goal from the top of the circles. Rask, who came way out of his crease to cut down the the angle, stopped both Owens’ initial shot and his rebound bid, before a trailing Ouellette found the second rebound in the right circle and put into the open side of the net for his first of two in the game.
The Pack finished the period strong and took the two goal lead into the first intermission. They managed eight shots on goal in the opening frame, compared to Providence’s 11.
The two teams played a scoreless second period, though the Bruins rang two shots off the iron during a mid-period power play after Paul Crowder was called for tripping following one of the most obvious dives of the year. Even more puzzling was Ciamaga’s decision to put the Pack down two men for a full two minutes when he awarded Jared Nightingale an extra two minutes following a fight with Kirk MacDonald at 18:24, despite the fact that MacDonald had to follow the Nightingale halfway across the rink in order to escape the linesmans’ grasp and engage the Michigan-born defenseman. MacDonald landed a few early blows, but Nightingale came back strong, hammering the winger with the a succession of rights that buckled his knees. Forty-one seconds later, Ciamaga was left with no choice but to call Providence rookie Miiko Lehtonen for holding when Finn draped himself over Pack defenseman Michael Sauer, turning the remaining 1:19 in penalty time into a 4-on-3.
After outshooting the Bruins 9-6 in the middle stanza, the Wolf Pack broke the game open in the third. Anisimov capitalized on the strong board work of his linemates to score his first of the game and team-leading 34th of the year. Dupont won a battle in the left corner and pushed the puck to Dale Weise, who outworked a Bruin behind the net and passed the puck out front to Anisimov, who shoveled it past Rask at 3:36 to give the Pack a 3-0 lead. It was Weise’s first game back in the line-up after missing three games because of a broken thumb suffered on March 22nd.
Ouellette, who missed Wednesday’s match against Portland with the flu, earned his second shorthanded marker less than two minutes later. The Dartmouth graduate pushed the puck by a Bruin defenseman in the neutral zone and raced past him to pick it up and go in on Rask on a partial breakaway. The 26-year old forward snapped a shot past the Finnish goaltender for his 14th of the season at 5:23, bettering last season’s goal total by one. Owens was credited with the lone assist, one of three he earned in the game, giving him five points in the last two games.
Anisimov made it 5-0 at 11:38 when he deflected Denisov’s shot from the left point past Rask for his second of the game. The goal was originally credited to Dupont, who was also in front, and it chased Rask, who gave up five goals on 23 shots, from the net in favor of backup Kevin Nastiuk.
Denisov added a goal of his own at 18:28. Owens led Brock McBride, who carried the puck into the Providence zone and pulled up in the high slot to feed the Belorussian defenseman for a one-timer from the top of the left circle. It was Denisov’s fifth goal of the season, and McBride’ third point in four games since joining the Wolf Pack on an amateur try-out contract last week.
The Wolf Pack put nine shots on goal in the final period, sneaking three past Rask in six shots and their final tally past Nastiuk, who faced three. At the other end, Zaba made even the challenging stops look easy as he blocked all 24 he faced. The rookie netminder now ranks fourth over all in the AHL with a 2.25 goals-against average and is tied with Lowell goaltender and fellow rookie Jeff Frazee for fifth with a .923 save percentage. The 24-year old has just one loss in his last 13 games, a 1-0 overtime defeat to Worcester.
It was a definite statement game by the Pack, which had fallen short in each of it’s first three visits to the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. They now hold a six point lead over the Bruins, who have five games remaining. Two more regulation wins by Hartford or any combination of five points won by the Pack or lost by the Bruins will give Hartford their first division title since 2003-2004.
Hartford gets a rare Saturday night off before hosting Lowell on Sunday afternoon. The Devils are in sixth place, six points out of the final playoff position after losing to Portland on Friday. Elsewhere in the division Worcester and Manchester were also winners, leaving Portland and Worcester tied with 81 points and Manchester one point back in the final playoff position at 80.
- Anisimov’s three point performance gives him 11 points in his last six games, and moved him into a tie with the absent Parenteau for the team lead in scoring. The second year center’s 35 goals rank him third over all in the AHL, while his 78 points place him fourth in league scoring.
- With the goal and assist in the game, Dupont now has 12 points in his last 11 games.
- Parenteau’s status was described as “a little banged up” by broadcaster Bob Crawford, offering hope that his absence won’t be lengthy.
- Wolf Pack captain Greg Moore is still suffering from post-concussion symptoms and there is no target date set for his return.
- Devin DiDiomete squared off with Jordan Knackstedt at 12:55 of the first period. Despite spotting the Bruin winger three inches, the Wolf Pack forward earned the slight edge in the close bout.
Bell – Rissmiller – Crowder
Dupont – Anisimov – Weise
Owens – McBride – Ouellette
Sugden – DiDiomete
Potter – Sanguinetti
Denisov – Fahey
Urquhart – Sauer
Zaba / Wiikman
1. Artem Anisimov
2. Matt Zaba
3. Mike Ouellette
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