Playing on ice that more closely resembled a Coney Island sno-cone than an American League hockey rink, the Connecticut Whale overcame a two goal deficit and came back to beat the Providence Bruins 4-3 in a shootout at the XL Center in front of 9,103 Saturday night.
Francis Lemieux, who was signed by the Whale from the ECHL’s Florida Everblades on February 21, got his first AHL game-winner off an impressive shot that beat starter Anton Khudobin (26 saves, 6/8 in shootout, 24-13-2) over the blocker.
“I told (Kelsey Tessier) on the bench that if (coach Ken Gernander) is sending me, I’m going East Coast speed so the goalie won’t be expecting that, so that’s what I did,” Lemieux said with a broad smile after the game. “I was coming pretty slow, just waiting for the goalie to make a move and shoot over his shoulder.
“I practice (the move) a little bit in Florida (with the Everblades) and did it one game and it worked so I just stuck with it and I tried it again (Saturday night) and it worked.
“(Khudobin) is catching with the left hand, so it’s easier for me because it’s his blocker side and tougher for him to reach over his shoulder. So I’m just coming slowly and just waiting for him to put his shoulder down and just tried to put it over his shoulder.
“It’s kind of fun to contribute offensively.”
After playing extraordinarily well during regulation, two of the three goals allowed he was helpless on, Dov Grumet-Morris (34 saves, 7/8 in shootout, 9-3-1) stole this game for his Whale teammates.
Grumet-Morris was incredibly dialed-in, as he has been in each of his games between the pipes for the surging Connecticut Whale, winners of seven of their last nine and nine games over hockey .500 for the first time this season.
The shootout was a microcosm of the entire game as the Whale rallied from a goal down with time running out only to win it on Lemieux’s goal and Grumet-Morris stoning Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman to clinch it in the eighth round of the shootout.
Jamie Arniel beat Grumet-Morris with a fake that the Whale netminder bit on and then a backhander over the top of him in the third round. Dale Weise then made a spectacular move to freeze Khudobin as he skated by and slide it five-hole to knot it up. The teams went three more rounds each before Lemieux and Grumet-Morris sealed the Baby Bruins fate.
“We needed these two points,” Grumet-Morris said. “That’s really what everyone was focused on. That’s the only thing that matters at this point.”
“I did make some saves and (The Bruins) were putting some pressure on. I’m sure if you asked them they felt they could have scored one or two more. Had that happened I think the game would have been out of reach… we came out ahead in the third period and what we talked about in the locker room, if we win the period we’re going to get at least one-point. That’s what we did and that’s what we needed to do.”
None of the post regulation heroics would have happened had Evgeny Grachev not ended a six-game goalless drought with his 16th of the season 3:26 left in regulation.
Stu Bickel high sticking call along the right wing half-boards as he tried to cover up for a bad Grachev giveaway just outside the Whale blueline left the Whale shorthanded for the fourth time at 15:58.
On the ensuing Bruin power play, after Wade Redden recovered a dump-in pass and advanced the puck to newcomer, veteran John Mitchell in the left corner. Mitchell made a terrific outlet pass to spring Grachev on a 1-on-2 in the neutral zone. Grachev got by Ryan Donald who reached for the puck and fell down just outside the Bruin’s blueline. Grachev took Alain Goulet wide to the left side as Maxime Sauve tried to make up ground on the streaking Russian. The second year winger fired a hard wrist shot that initially looked to be heading wide, but Khudobin made a stab at it with the glove and couldn’t control it. The puck hit his glove, deflected and changed direction enough that it fell over his shoulder and into the net.
“We were shorthanded, I was going down the (left wing) and I saw (Khudobin) go down to one knee,” Grachev said. “I got a fortunate break and the shot went off his glove. He had a lot of heart. It was tremendous to come back. When you get a goal like that, you get pumped up.”
The Whale got on the board first at 11:15 of the opening stanza on the power-play.
David Laliberte took a hooking call at 9:21. The Whale power play seemed to be going nowhere when it rallied late. Mitchell broke in hard and fast getting by Goulet for a shot at Khudobin, but lost the puck into the corner. Mitchell chased the puck down and gave it off to Lemieux, who drew a defender and gave it back to Mitchell. The veteran center fed the puck to the left side of the circle where it met Grachev’s stick. Grachev sent the puck out to the left point to Blake Parlett. The rookie defenseman then sent the puck past a sliding Kirk MacDonald over to Mitchell, who was all alone in the low right circle. Mitchell’s semi-fanned on one–timer got past Goulet and went over the top of the sliding Khodobin for his fifth of the season and a 1-0 lead.
A scrum in front of the Bruins net landed Devin DiDiomete in the penalty box with a double minor, one call for roughing and the other for slashing. His combatant, Andrew Bodnarchuk, got just one two-minute stay in isolation which gave the Bruins a man-advantage at 17:11.
Trent Whitfield recovered a Jared Nightingale clearing attempt in the left corner and sent the puck out to the point to Zach Hamill. The Bruin Center brought the puck to the top of the high slot and unloaded a hard shot on net. Nightingale and Sauve crashed the net. The puck hit Nightingales skate and bounced off of Sauve’s shin out to Whitfield on the left doorstep. Grumet-Morris was down to get the Hamill shot and could not recover fast enough to get to Whitfield who buried his 13th of the year at 18:22.
Providence scored twice in a span of 1:54 to build their lead out to 3-1 on goals by Jordan Caron at 13:28 on a rebound of a shot that changed direction when it hit Brodie Dupont’s stick, much like Whitfield’s goal, and then at 15:22 when Kris Newbury’s offensive zone turnover wound up in the back of the net off a LaVallee-Smotherman stuff in after it hit Whitfield in front of Grumet-Morris.
It would be the “third-line” of Kelsey Tessier, Lemieux and Derek Couture who would be the most effective for Ken Gernander’s troops and they got it close when Couture was finally able to break through and get his name onto the scorers sheet with 3:38 to go in the second.
Couture has had a multitude of great scoring chances since rejoining the Whale nine games ago after spending most of the season with the Victoria Salmon-Kings of the ECHL. Couture’s backhander from the left side of the crease off a Pavel Valentenko rebound snuck past Khudobin. In his zeal to get it out of harms’ way, MacDonald knocked into his own net to bring the Whale within a goal.
It wasn’t pretty, but Couture will take it.
“I’ve had three breakaways and two good, solid opportunities from the slot, and that’s the one that goes in?” He said. “But that’s how the game works sometimes. Each line has to chip in, and we felt good out there.”
“Couture got a big goal for us that got us back in the game,” Lemieux said speaking of his line. “It was good for our whole line to create offensively. We’re just trying to work hard every night. We know we’re there to create some energy and scoring chances and not make any mistakes mentally, and that’s what we did tonight. We were first on the puck all night and finished our hits, and it worked well for us.”
The win combined with the Worcester Sharks’ 5-3 loss at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to the Penguins extended the Whale’s hold on third place in the Atlantic Division to four points with eleven left to go in the regular season. The Whale’s win also kept them a single point ahead of the Binghamton Senators who are currently 5th in the East Division. The Sens were 2-0 winners over the Whale’s Sunday opponent, the fading Springfield Falcons, 2-0.
Of the three teams left realistically in the hunt for playoff spots, two will make the race for the Calder Cup. The third place Atlantic Division team is in as is the team with the higher point total between the fourth place Atlantic and fifth place East division team. The AHL set it up that way as the East has eight teams to the Atlantic’s seven.
(Standings via theahl.com)
SOUNDS OF THE GAME:
* When tied after one period, the Whale are 19-9-1-2
* 14-13-0-2 is the Whale record when opponents outshoot them. They are 20-13-2-3 when the situation is reversed.
* Bigger stat, when trailing after two periods the Whale are 6-21-0-2
* In one-goal games, the Whale are 18-12-2-6. Think they’re playing a lot of one-goal games? To put it in perspective, Providence is 17-6-3-3.
* The victory was the Whale’s 600th during the regular-season in the franchise’s 14-year franchise history – they’re 600(W)-361(L)-66(T)-49(OTL)-33(SOL).
Dupont – Newbury – Weise
Grachev – Mitchell – Couture
Tessier – Lemieux – Williams
Soryal – Garlock – DiDiomete
Redden – Nightingale
Valentenko – Parlett
Bickel – Kundratek
(Assistant Captains Bold and Italicized)
Chad Kolarik – Undisclosed Injury – Day-to-Day
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 – F. Lemieux
2. PRO – T. Whitfield
3. CT – D. Grumet-Morris
ON ICE OFFICIALS:
Ghislain Hebert (49)
Jim Briggs (83)
Derek Wahl (46)
Another game in less than 24 hours as the Whale take the ice in another critical game Sunday afternoon against the Springfield Falcons at the XL Center. The puck drops at 3pm 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.
Providence Bruins 3 at Connecticut Whale 4 (SO) – Status: Final SO
Saturday, March 19, 2011 – XL Center Veterans Memorial Coliseum
Providence 1 2 0 0 – 3
Connecticut 1 1 1 0 – 4
1st Period-1, Connecticut, Mitchell 5 (Parlett, Grachev), 11:15 (PP). 2, Providence, Whitfield 13 (Sauve, Hamill), 18:22 (PP). Penalties-Mitchell Ct (tripping), 1:33; Laliberte Pro (hooking), 9:21; Bodnarchuk Pro (roughing), 17:11; DiDiomete Ct (slashing, roughing), 17:11; LaVallee-Smotherman Pro (elbowing), 19:47.
2nd Period-3, Providence, Caron 10 (Bartkowski, Hamill), 13:26 (PP). 4, Providence, LaVallee-Smotherman 13 (Whitfield, MacDonald), 15:22. 5, Connecticut, Couture 1 (Valentenko, Lemieux), 16:22. Penalties-Bickel Ct (roughing), 12:42.
3rd Period-6, Connecticut, Grachev 16 (Mitchell, Redden), 16:34 (SH). Penalties-Whitfield Pro (roughing), 0:29; Newbury Ct (roughing), 0:29; Sauve Pro (slashing), 2:05; Bickel Ct (high-sticking), 15:58.
OT Period- No Scoring.Penalties-No Penalties
Shootout – Providence 1 (Hamill NG, Sauve NG, Arniel G, Whitfield NG, Caron NG, MacDonald NG, Laliberte NG, LaVallee-Smotherman NG), Connecticut 2 (Mitchell NG, Williams NG, Grachev NG, Weise G, Redden NG, Newbury NG, Kundratek NG, Lemieux G).
Shots on Goal-Providence 12-14-9-2-0-37. Connecticut 9-7-10-3-1-30.
Power Play Opportunities-Providence 2 / 4; Connecticut 1 / 3.
Goalies-Providence, Khudobin 24-13-2 (29 shots-26 saves). Connecticut, Grumet-Morris 9-3-1 (37 shots-34 saves).
Referees-Ghislain Hebert (49).
Linesmen-Jim Briggs (83), Derek Wahl (46).