Saturday hosted one of those rare nights where both the NHL and their AHL affiliates would squared off on the same day. The AHL Connecticut Whale did their part with a 4-2 victory, their fifth in seven tries, against the Worcester Sharks. After that game concluded, some three hours later the parent New York Rangers went on to beat the San Jose Sharks in a shootout 3-2.
In another twist of irony, it was ex-Ranger Wade Redden who’s key play in the second period led to the game-tying goal for the Whale, while an ex-Wolf Pack player, Brandon Dubinsky, scored the shootout goal winner for the Rangers.
Meanwhile back in Hartford where the Whale have struggled to win all season long, it wasn’t a goal or a big defensive play that broke open the game for the home team, it was a fight.
The Whale were not playing badly, but they weren’t exactly playing well either. At times offensively they looked semi-comatose thought the first half of the game. They were dead-for-four on their power play which looked like these guys had all just met on the ice for the very first time. On the scoreboard they were already trailing 1-0 on a Tommy Wingels goal at 8:07 of the first period and basically looked like they were going nowhere.
Williams acknowledged the team’s slow start and the shakiness of the Whale had the man-advantage. “Our power play struggled at the start, but we got it back going and got some goals and momentum started coming. We all weren’t really on the same page. We weren’t really sure what we were doing.
“We were a little too individual, myself included,” Williams said. “But don’t take away anything from them because they’re neutral zone on their penalty kill is really unique because they take away the outside and collapse on you when you go inside. You have to make good plays, and if you’re not ready and not bearing down, it’s going to look like our first two power plays. So I think it was a matter of shaking the rust off because we hadn’t played together for awhile.”
That all changed at 11:29 of the second period.
Nick Petrecki had already been called by referee Keith Kaval for slashing John Mitchell behind the play when, as the two skated into the Whale zone, the Sharks’ defenseman skated up behind the Whale center and cross-checked him to the ice. That was all that the Whale’s Jared Nightingale was going to tolerate.
The 6’3, 205-pound Nightingale was engaged with defending Benn Ferriero when he stepped up and jumped all over the 6’4”, 220 pound Petrecki. Nightingale just pummeled Petrecki with right hands. While the fight didn’t end in a knockout or anyone being dropped to the ice, it just seemed to send two messages, one to the Whale bench and the other to the Sharks. For the Whale it was a wake up call and to the Sharks, it told them that the Whale was not going to allow cheap shots to go without a strong answer.
“That’s one of the roles that I think I can bring to this team,” Nightingale said. “I’ve done it the last two years, and I have no problem doing it. I think there are 19 other guys who would be willing to do the same thing. Sometimes a fight can turn around a game. I’m not going to say that fight turned around the game. I think Dov made some big saves, and we just stuck with it, chipped away and just happened to score after the fight.
“We stuck to the game plan, and after the fight (the Sharks) took some undisciplined penalties, and our power play won the game for us.”
Nightingale may have been a good soldier in his comments and was perhaps being a bit humble, because Williams, back after missing four games with a neck injury, wasn’t downplaying the significance of the Nightingale fight saying that it turned things around, “Big time! Any time you’ve got a guy like ‘Scary’ (Justin Soryal), ‘Nightie,’ (Nightingale), ‘Dibs’ (Devin DiDiomete), ‘Bicks’ (Stu Bickel) when the game’s flat, those guys…Nightie is stickin’ up for Mitch, the guy slashes him, of course it ignites everybody. Everybody gets a little fired up, and we ended up from then on, we were pretty good.
“Getting a goal or one of our guys getting into a good fight is the same kind of momentum builder. That’s why there’s such a good mix of scoring and toughness. If we’re not scoring, we’ve got guys fighting to get everybody up.
Goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris (21 saves, 7-3-1) agreed with Williams assessment of the importance of Nightingale’s contribution saying, “It had a significant impact on our team. I thought it was the right place, right time,” Grumet Morris said. “Obviously we still maintained our power play because he did initiate a fight that the guy was looking for. I think it gave us a boost, and we obviously scored consecutive power-play goals and that clearly turned the game around.”
“There are all kinds of things that can change the momentum of the game,” Coach Ken Gernander said. “Sometimes it’s a big save, sometimes it’s a scrap, a big hit, something, but (the fight) was good.”
After the fight, Worcester lost control of the contest as well as their discipline and it cost them two points in a “4-point” game to determine third place in the Atlantic Conference.
With the Whale on the power play from the Petrecki slash, things seemed to change all over the ice. The Whale power play went from a blank vacant stare, to a lively well-oiled machine.
Williams had a great shot from the right wing stopped by Tyson Sexsmith (29 saves, 2-3-1) at 12:24, but just 18 seconds after that, Nick Schaus was whistled for a slash with 48 seconds still remaining on Petrecki’s penalty giving the Whale a 5-on-3 power play and with that they turned the game 180 degrees the other direction.
The Whale got a Williams power play goal with just nine seconds remaining on the two-man advantage at 13:20 off a tremendous blast that flew in high over the glove of Sexsmith from the left point. But this goal doesn’t happen if not for a great play at the blueline by Redden to keep the puck in the zone after John McCarthy stripped Brodie Dupont along the right wing half-boards. Redden cut off McCarthy’s clearing attempt and then sent the pass over to Williams for the shot.
“It was a pretty heady play,” Gernander said describing Redden’s play. “He used his body to block the puck and then have the poise to collar the puck and made a good D-to-D pass when you’re getting forced (by McCarthy).”
The Whale came right back 42 seconds later when ever so ironically, it was number 42, Chad Kolarik who would score his 21st of the season.
Mitchell picked up a loose puck along the right wing half-boards and sent it into the corner to Kolarik. The Whale forward, back in just his second game after missing nine games with a hamstring injury, came out of the corner and approached Sexsmith. Jon Landry was battling Evgeny Grachev for position in front of the net. Kolarik dished to Grachev who put the shot on goal. There was a scramble in front as Matt Irwin joined the fracas as the puck rebounded out to Kolarik, who was headed towards the front of the net, dove back to the right side of the cage and knocked it into the net giving the Whale a lead they would not relinquish.
The Whale finished the period killing off consecutive penalties to Pavel Valentenko (Tripping) and Bickel (Cross-checking) and after two periods led 2-1 with a 23-13 lead in shots.
The game was still very much in question when the third frame began, but the Whale gave themselves much needed breathing room when Williams would get his second of the game at 1:34.
The play started innocently enough as Valentenko sent his first pass from behind the cage out to the left win to Blake Parlett. Valentenko’s defensive partner saw Williams breaking through a gigantic gap between Schaus and Petrecki and made a tape-to-tape pass that hit the streaking forward right in stride. Williams rushed up ice to the circle and from just inside the circle by the has marks ripped a bullet over the glove of Sexsmith for what would prove to be the game winner.
“I looked up, and (Williams) is the first guy I saw,” Parlett said. “He made a good play to get open, and there’s no one else I’d rather give the puck to than him.”
At 3:04, Worcester would come within a goal when Petrecki’s shot form the left point hit Grumet-Morris’ pads and bounced out in front of the net. Neither Valentenko or Parlett picked up Wingels who put his second of the game past the glove of the fallen Whale netminder.
With 1:20 to go, Sexsmith came out of the net for an extra attacker.
Bickel took a loose puck in the Whale zone and threw it the length of the ice. The puck was picked up by Jon Landry in the left corner. His clearing attempt was knocked down by Kris Newbury who handed off to Dupont at the left point. Dupont saw Dale Weise all alone in the circle and banked it off the boards right to the Whale right winger who flung the puck into the far corner of the net just past a sliding Matt Irwin for his 14th of the season.
The Sharks’ first goal was a bit of a mystery at first as to how the puck got into the net. But Grumet-Morris explained it.
“The pass went up to (Shaus). He did a shot fake, moved to the side, did a power wrister in. The puck went to the side. The man in front (Brandon Mashinter) tipped it. I made the first save with my right pad and it came out. (Mashinter) stayed in front and created a screen. I was trying to find (the puck) and trying to ‘get big,’ but Wingels picked the puck up saw I was off my post because I couldn’t see and he shot it right off of me and in.” Grumet-Morris said. “He knew what he was doing. That was a purposeful goal and a very skillful goal.”
Overall the Whale goaltender was pleased with how his teammates performed in such a big game. “I thought we had a very strong game defensively,” He said. “We had only 23 shots against, and we had only (22) against (Friday against Hershey) night. So the consistency of our defensive corps and our team defense has been really good.”
But Grumet-Morris was VERY solid in between the pipes for the Whale as he has been in each opportunity he’s been given this season.
“It has been his MO of late (to make timely saves),” Gernander said of his goaltender. “Lots of nights it’s not the work load you have, it’s the save at the big moment. It’s not the volume of work.”
The win gives the Whale a two-point lead on Worcester for third place in the Atlantic Division. Binghamton came from behind to defeat the Charlotte Checkers 3-1 so they remain 1-point in front of the Whale in 5th place in the Atlantic. Remember, that if the fifth place team in the Atlantic (which has one more team than the Atlantic) is better than the fourth place team in the other division they will get in to the tournament and send the fourth place team to the summer vacation. So catching Binghamton is important for both teams.
Getting some distance between themselves and the Sharks however is crucial to the Whale’s playoff aspirations.
“It’s a six-period game, especially with this weekend being a potential eight-point swing,” Williams said. “They’re going to be hungry (Sunday), so we’re really going to have to match that. We’re going into their building, and we build off what we did in the third period.”
Nightingale acknowledged the importance of the battle with the Sharks on Sunday. “It’s a great opportunity to widen the gap. This is the last time that we play Worcester, so we have to go in with a must-win and playoff attitude and really separate ourselves from them.”
(Standings via theahl.com)
SOUNDS OF THE GAME:
* One time NHL 56-goal scorer, Jonathan Cheechoo was a scratch for this game. Cheechoo is at his home in California resting an ailing back.
* The Whale netminders, Chad Johnson (5 games), Cam Talbot (1 game) and Grumet-Morris (1 game) have stopped 188 of 202 Shark shots in seven games this season. That gives them a .930% and a 2.00 GAA. Any wonder that the Whale are 5-1-0-1 versus their Massachusetts neighbor?
Dupont – Newbury – Weise
Kolarik – Lemieux – Williams
Grachev – Mitchell – Tessier
Soryal – Garlock – Couture
Redden – Nightingale
Valentenko – Parlett
Bickel – Kundratek
(Assistant Captains Bold and Italicized)
Lee Baldwin – Healthy Scratch
Devin DiDiomete – Healthy Scratch
Michael Del Zotto – Broken Finger, 2-3 weeks
Jyri Niemi – Separated Shoulder – Four – Six Weeks
Todd White – Concussion – Indefinite
Chris McKelvie – Foot Surgery, Season
1. CT – J. Williams
2. WOR – T. Wingels
3. CT – C. Kolarik
ON ICE OFFICIALS:
Keith Kaval (40)
Paul Simeon (66)
Kevin Redding (16)
Part two of perhaps the two most important games of the season as the Whale go back on the road for the back-end of the home-and-home with the Worcester Sharks. Making the playoffs is on the line. The puck drops Sunday at 3 with Bob Crawford handling the play-by-play with the pregame a half an hour before game time.
To watch the game live, you can purchased it for $6.99 at AHL-live.
For Ticket information for all home games, call (860) 548-2000.
Worcester Sharks 2 at Connecticut Whale 4 – Status: Final
Saturday, March 12, 2011 – XL Center Veterans Memorial Coliseum
Worcester 1 0 1 – 2
Connecticut 0 2 2 – 4
1st Period-1, Worcester, Wingels 13 (Mashinter, Schaus), 8:07. Penalties-Petrecki Wor (slashing), 9:49; Moore Wor (holding), 17:47.
2nd Period-2, Connecticut, Williams 26 (Redden), 13:20 (PP). 3, Connecticut, Kolarik 21 (Grachev, Mitchell), 14:02 (PP). Penalties-Irwin Wor (delay of game), 1:16; Nightingale Ct (cross-checking), 4:07; McLaren Wor (hooking), 6:21; Petrecki Wor (slashing, fighting), 11:29; Nightingale Ct (fighting), 11:29; Schaus Wor (slashing), 12:42; Valentenko Ct (tripping), 15:19; Bickel Ct (cross-checking), 17:23.
3rd Period-4, Connecticut, Williams 27 (Parlett, Valentenko), 1:34. 5, Worcester, Wingels 14 (Petrecki, McCarthy), 3:04. 6, Connecticut, Weise 14 (Dupont, Newbury), 19:18 (EN). Penalties-Soryal Ct (high-sticking), 6:36; Wingels Wor (roughing), 19:55; served by Lemieux Ct (bench minor – unsportsmanlike conduct), 19:55.
Shots on Goal-Worcester 8-5-10-23. Connecticut 10-13-10-33.
Power Play Opportunities-Worcester 0 / 4; Connecticut 2 / 6.
Goalies-Worcester, Sexsmith 2-3-1 (32 shots-29 saves). Connecticut, Grumet-Morris 7-3-1 (23 shots-21 saves).
Referees-Keith Kaval (40).
Linesmen-Paul Simeon (66), Kevin Redding (16).