The Hartford Wolf Pack charged out to a 3-0 lead in the first twelve minutes of Saturday’s game against the Worcester Sharks, but needed a big third period goal by Mike Ouellette to recover from a poor middle frame in which they surrendered that lead in a 4:49 stretch. Mark Bell added a shorthanded empty netter to settle the score at 5-3 in a physical, penalty-filled affair, giving the Wolf Pack a 2-0 lead in their Atlantic Division Semifinal Series.
Artem Anisimov got the Wolf Pack on the board first with an early power play goal after he stole the puck from 12-year NHL veteran defensman Kyle McLaren behind the Worcester net and circled around the right post to beat Sharks goaltender Thomas Greiss on the short side. The unassisted tally gave Anisimov goals in each game in the series and was the Wolf Pack’s first power play goal in 16 tries dating back four games, including the final three games of the regular season.
Jordan Owens extended the Pack’s lead to two at 7:08 during a four-on-four when he skated out from the right corner and put a hard shot on Greiss from the right side of the crease. The German-born goaltender made the initial stop, but the rebound struck Sharks defenseman Jason Demers‘ right skate and ricocheted back towards the net and into the open side of the goal. It was Owens’ first AHL playoff goal in three springs of post-season play and like Anisimov’s tally, was unassisted.
The Pack extended the lead to three at 12:01 when Bobby Sanguinetti emerged from the penalty box and joined Greg Moore on the rush. The rookie defenseman took a drop pass from his captain along the left wing boards and snapped a shot towards the Worcester net. The young defenseman’s shot appeared to deflect off the leg of Demers before beating Greiss on the glove side, giving the New Jersey native his first career playoff goal. The Wolf Pack’s third tally came on only their eight shot on goal against Greiss, who is now 0-5 in his playoff career.
Unable to beat Wolf Pack starter Matt Zaba despite putting up 38 shots in game one and another dozen through the first half of the first period of game two, Worcester adopted the “if you can’t beat them, beat them up” approach, bumping the the rookie netminder at every opportunity, sending him sprawling on three different occasions, and drawing the ire of his teammates. Their approach earned them a five minute major power play at 14:54 when defenseman Corey Potter was tossed from the game for a slash on a Shark player who ran the Hartford goalie after he had frozen the puck. But the Sharks’ Logan Couture took things too far 1:04 later, when he charged through the crease and left his feet as he barreled into Zaba, earning a five-minute charging major of his own.
When the horn finally sounded to signal the end of the first period the Sharks were down by three despite outshooting their hosts 22-8 and referee Francois St. Laurent had already assessed 50 minutes in penalties, allowing the teams only 4:22 of 5-on-5 in the period. Things would get considerably worse for the Pack in the second period.
Playing with the lead, and a little too confident in their netminder, the Pack played one of their sloppiest periods of hockey of the year in the second frame, surrendering another 19 shots on Zaba and affording the visitors four more power plays, including 22 seconds of 5-on-3 time. Zaba was able to hold them until just short of the midway mark of the period. The Sharks 35th shot of the game was a knuckler by Brendan Buckley from the right point that took a funny bounce right in front of the Saskatchewan native and fooled him through the five hole at 9:51, putting the Sharks on the scoreboard for the first time in 73 shots and nearly 90 minutes of play.
It only took 29 seconds for them to do it again. Rookie Andrew Desjardins banked the puck in off Zaba from the goal line to the right of the Hartford net, earning his first playoff goal and pulling the Sharks within one at 10:20.
While its fair to say St. Laurent inserted himself in the play far too much in the game, and made a few head-scratching calls while letting some of the more dangerous plays go unpunished, the fact remains that the Pack continued its late-season habit of putting themselves in far too much penalty trouble. To make matters worse, they were playing without Potter, a top penalty-killing defenseman, which put even more strain on the PK unit. After killing off 16 infractions through two games, the Pack penalty kill finally cracked. Worcester winger Riley Armstrong fired a slap shot from the top of the right circle that bounced off Zaba’s shoulder straight up in the air, landing behind the Colorado College graduate and trickling over the goal line to even the score at three at 14:40.
When the second period finally ended, the Pack were being outshot by a 41-13 margin, and had given the Sharks ten power play opportunities.
While poor second periods have been a bad habit for the Pack throughout the season, so have third period rebounds, and Saturday night would be no different. The Pack emerged from the locker room to start the third period and played their best 20 minutes of hockey in the series, getting an early goal from Mike Ouellette to stall Worcester’s momentum. Dane Byers, skating in only his second game since Halloween, centered the puck to Ouellette in the crease, and the Kamloops, BC native spun around and shoveled a backhand shot along the ice that snuck between Greiss’ pads and gave the Pack a 4-3 lead at 2:23. It was the second point in as many games for both Byers and Ouellette, and with a secondary assist, Owens took the team lead in points with a goal and two assists in two games.
Hartford would earn a pair of unsuccessful power play early in the period before getting in more penalty trouble in the second half of the session, but they buckled down, holding the Sharks to just six shots in the frame. Ouellette took the Wolf Pack’s third penalty of the period at 19:30, setting up a half minute of 6-on-4 play with Greiss on the bench in favor of the extra skater. But with just 4.6 seconds left to play Sanguinetti, who played a strong game and is now a +3 in two post-season games, stripped Armstrong as he crossed the Hartford blue line and fed Bell for a shorthanded breakaway and an empty net goal to seal the Wolf Pack victory and two game series lead.
The series moves to Worcester for game three on Monday night at 6:35pm.
Video highlights from the game are available from AHL Live.
- After being a team-worst -8 during the regular season, Sanguinetti leads the team with a +3 and has been one of the Pack’s best defensemen in the Pack’s opening pair of playoff games.
- Fifteen seconds prior to Bell’s empty net insurance goal, Sanguinetti hit the post with a long clear from below the left circle in the Pack zone.
- Depth kills: Hartford’s third line of Byers, Oullette and Owens has combined for seven points in two playoff games.
- Zaba’s 22 first period saves were a career high for stops in a period. Through two games, the rookie netminder has a 1.51 GAA and .965 save percentage, ranking him third in the league in both categories.
- While whistling the Wolf Pack for every ticky-tack hold and hook, St. Laurent let dangerous hits by the Sharks go unpunished. The most dangerous was by Buckley on Anisimov as he was straddled over the boards in the midst of leaving the ice on a line change early in the third. Rookie Dale Weise was the victim of an elbow to the head in the first period that went uncalled, and Owens was the victim of a stick to the face from Desjardins after the final buzzer sounded when he was cross-checked behind into the Sharks raised arms.
- Worcester head coach Roy Sommer and Hartford assistant coach Pat Boller got into a verbal jousting match at the end of the game. It’s not the first time the two benches have sparred; the coaching staffs previously faced off over the glass between the benches during a Halloween game, also in Hartford.
- When all was said and done, St. Laurent had handed out 27 infractions, including two non-fighting majors, a game misconduct, and a ten minute misconduct, for a total of 76 minutes in penalties.
- Before the game, the Wolf Pack announced that it had signed Spokane Chiefs defenseman Trevor Glass to an Amateur Try-Out contract.
1. Anisimov (2) 3:40 (PP)
1. Owens (1) 7:08
1. Sanguinetti (1) (Moore) 12:01
2. Buckley (1) 9:51
2. Desjardins (1) (McLaren) 10:20
2. Armstrong (1) 14:40 (PP)
3. Ouellette (1) (Byers, Owens) 2:23
3. Bell (1) (Sanguinetti) 19:55 (EN/SH)
Bell – Rissmiller – Moore
Dupont – Anisimov – Weise
Byers – Ouellette – Owens
DiDiomete – McBride – Crowder
Potter – Sanguinetti
Urquhart – Sauer
Nightingale – Fahey
Zaba / Wiikman
1. Jordan Owens
2. Matt Zaba
3. Mike Ouellette
- Wolf Pack Take 2-0 Series Lead with 5-3 Win (Hartford Wolf Pack)
- Wolf Pack Take 2-0 Series Lead (Hartford Courant)
- Sharks rally, but canâ€™t even series (Telegram & Gazette)
- Buckley finally sees one squeak through (Telegram & Gazzette)
- Valiant Game 2 Comeback Falls Short, 5-3 (Worcester Sharks)
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