It wasn’t perfect, but the Hartford Wolf Pack capitalized on goals from five different players to hold on for a 5-3 win over the third place Portland Pirates in Hartford on Wednesday. Rookie Brock McBride got his first two professional points and newcomer David Stich added his own first point as a pro, while Jordan Owens and Mark Bell each contributed a goal and and assist. The win widened the gap between Hartford and Portland to 13 points, guaranteeing no worse than a second place finish for the Pack with five games remaining in the season.
Hartford jumped out to an early lead in the game when defenseman Vladimir Denisov scored at 1:41 of the first period off the rebound of Owen’ low shot from the left circle. Portland netminder Jonas Enroth kicked the rebound out into the slot, where a charging Denisov pounced to score his fourth goal of the season. McBride earned the secondary assist for his first point since signing an Amateur Try-Out contract with the Pack a week ago.
Brodie Dupont extended the Pack’s lead at the seven minute mark when he tipped defenseman Brian Fahey’s slapshot from the left point past Enroth. Artem Anisimov won a battle along the right wing boards and fed the puck to Bobby Sanguinetti at the right point, who passed it along the blue line to the left point for Fahey’s shot. It was Dupont’s 16th of the season and gave him ten points in his last ten games.
The Pack looked to have put the game away three minutes into the second period when Mark Bell scored Hartford’s 14th shorthanded goal of the season off a 2-on-1 with Anisimov. Anisimov stole the puck at the Wolf Pack blue line and carried it down the left wing boards, faking the shot and sliding the pass around a sprawled defenseman for the easy put-home. Enroth had stopped Bell on a shorthanded breakaway a half a minute earlier when defenseman Michael Sauer, back from his three game debut with the Rangers, fed the veteran forward with a long outlet pass.
But after taking the three goal lead, the Wolf Pack became complacent, dialing back their battle level and avoiding the dirty work along the boards in favor of high-risk passes and stick checks. Their lackadaisical play almost cost them, as the Pirates scored two goals to to cut the Pack’s lead to one by the end of the second frame. The visitors got their first at 6:42 when Marek Zagrapan picked off P.A. Parenteau’s pass up the middle just inside the Wolf Pack blue line and skated in alone on goaltender Matt Zaba. Zagrapan deked forehand to backhand before sliding the puck around Zaba’s left pad for his 20th of the season.
Zaba stopped a pair of point blank power play shots by Portland winger Mark Mancari with four minutes remaining in the period, but Colin Murphy made it 3-2 off the ensuing face off when he skated out from behind the goal line and stuffed the puck through Zaba’s pads at 16:08. The Wolf Pack mustered only three shots in the period compared to Portland’s ten, giving the visitors a 23-13 lead in shots through forty minutes.
After what was likely a stern talking to by head coach Ken Gernander between periods, a refocused Wolf Pack squad took the ice to start the third and scored two quick goals to put the game out of reach. McBride earned his second point of the night at 4:45 when he fed Owens for a rush down the right wing side. Owens cut in off the boards and muscled around a Portland defender to jam the puck between Enroth’s pads for his 11th goal of the season.
Forty seconds later Stich earned his first pro point when Devin DiDiomete scored off the rebound of the Czech defenseman’s slapshot from the blueline. Stich, an undrafted 19-year old free agent who joined the Ranger organization briefly on a try-out basis last fall for the Traverse City tournament, signed an Amateur Try-Out contract with the Pack on Monday and was making his pro debut.
Portland added another power play goal at 11:24, but it was too little, too late. Mike Kostka fed rookie Tim Kennedy for a low shot from the hashmarks which beat Zaba on the glove side. The 23-year old center, along with teammate Nathan Gerbe, had been named to the AHL All-Rookie Team earlier in the day,
The teams traded chances in the final half of the third period, but Zaba and Enroth both came up with big saves when necessary, maintaining the 5-3 score. The Wolf Pack outshot the Pirates 18-12 in the final period, but spotted the Pirates a 35-31 advantage for the game. Zaba stopped 32 shots for his fourth straight win and 22nd victory of the season.
The Wolf Pack travel to Providence on Friday for their final showdown of the regular season with the second place Bruins. Hartford will take a four point lead into the game, although the Bruins, who were idle on Wednesday, do have a game in hand.
Elsewhere in the Atlantic Division, Manchester, Lowell and Worcester all gained ground on the Pirates. Worcester moved into a tie with Portland with 79 points after an overtime win in Springfield, while Manchester is one point behind after topping Lowell in a shootout. The Devils kept their dim playoff hopes alive with the loser’s point against Mancester, and are three points back with 75.
Video highlights are available from AHL Live.
- Top penalty killer Mike Ouellette missed the game due to the flu. In his absence, the Wolf Pack PK allowed two goals on five attempts, although they made up for one with Bell’s shorthander.
- Apart from his assist, Stich, who was coach’s pick as best defenseman on the Czech team at this winter’s World Junior Championship (while playing on a pairing with Ranger draft pick Tomas Kundratek), was fairly unnoticeable. For more on the young defenseman, who’s played the last three seasons with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, see the Telegraph Journal here, here and here.
- Jared Nightingale and Jimmy Bonneau dropped the gloves at 13:35 of the first period. Both players landed a couple of heavy rights, but Nightingale lost his balance after getting tagged by one of Bonneau’s, bringing the bout to an early end.
- New York Rangers assistant coach Mike Pelino was in the house for his second straight game and joined Bob Crawford on the broadcast between the second and third periods. Pelino reported that he’s taken a step back from the day-to-day opperations of the Rangers, and has been doing more scouting of late. In recent week’s he’s spent time in Hartford, up in Ontario taking in a few OHL games, and even watching a few NCAA games. He called Anisimov “the most impressive player on the ice,” despite the Russian forward’s quiet night points-wise.
- In addition to his two assists, McBride had two great opportunities to pick up his first professional goal, but was thwarted by Enroth both times. The 22-year old out of St. Lawrence University looked good centering a line with speedy sparkplugs Tommy Pyatt and Jordan Owens and also saw some time on the penalty kill.
- This was last of eight games between these two potential playoff opponents. The Wolf Pack took the season series 7-1 after falling to the Pirates in the first round of the playoffs a year ago.
1. Denisov (4) (Owens, McBride) 1:41
1. Dupont (16) (Fahey, Sanguinetti) 7:00
2. Bell (17) (Anisimov) 3:00 (SH)
2. Zagrapan (20) 6:42
2. Murphy (11) (Zagrapan, Gragnani) 16:08 (PP)
3. Owens (11) (McBride, Pyatt) 4:45
3. DiDiomete (4) (Stich, Bell) 5:25
3. Kennedy (17) (Kostka, Persson) 11:24 (PP)
Bell – Rissmiller – Parenteau
Dupont – Crowder – Anisimov
Pyatt – McBride – Owens
DiDiomete – Sugden
Fahey – Sanguinetti
Urquhardt – Sauer
Denisov – Nightingale
1. Mark Bell
2. Brock McBride
3. Jordan Owens
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