With under five minutes to go in the game Friday night and the Connecticut Whale trailing 0-2, some of the 5,862 fans at the XL Center began filing out of the building…wonder how they feel now after the home team scored two goals in 1:13 to tie it, played perhaps the most exciting overtime period in recent memory and won it in the shootout over the visiting Charlotte Checkers 3-2.
After winning their last three consecutive games entering the third period trailing, you would think that, for the 2010-2011 version of the Connecticut Whale, the game isn’t over for them until the “Three Stars of the Game” are being announced, but apparently some did and they missed an amazing finish.
After being trapped and lulled into a coma for the first 55 minutes, Assistant Coach J.J. Daigneault drew up a set play off a faceoff and it worked like a charm, not once, but twice.
With under three minutes left in the third and down two goals, Daigneault called for Blake Parlett and Pavel Valentenko to switch sides from their normal position allowing the Moscow, Russia native to set up at the top of the high slot.
Kris Newbury cleanly beat Jacob MicFlickier in the left face-off circle back to Parlett in the left corner. Parlett slid the puck over to the backwards skating Valentenko who uncorked a one-timer slap-shot that looked like a Soviet cruise missile of a shot that Zdeno Chara would envy and blew it right over the glove of Checkers starter Justin Pogge (34 saves, 3-of-5 in shootout, 18-16-4). The goal came with just 2:21 to go.
Then with Whale netminder Dov Grumet-Morris (29 saves, 4-of-5 in the shootout, 11-3-1) on the bench for an extra attacker, in the right faceoff circle, John Mitchell squared off with Checkers center Jon Matsumoto and like Newbury before him, won it cleanly back to Wade Redden in the right corner. Redden and Stu Bickel had also switched sides, and the 14-year veteran saucered a perfect pass over to Bickel just inside the blueline on the right point. Who knew that the Whale defender could get off as hard a shot that he did and his one –timer matched the intensity of Valentenko’s blast and blew it right past Pogge’s glove for the equalizer.
“All game that lane was open for us, and I just tried to get tight into Reds so I could get off the one-timer,” Bickel said. “I just looked at the lane where I could get the puck thought to the net. We knew what we wanted to do off the draw, and it worked out. When you’re not scoring a ton, you look at where you’re shooting and maybe try to change things up, but from the point, you’re mostly looking for the lane to get it through. If you see a corner, you’re obviously going to shoot there, but you’re not so much trying to pick a corner as you are trying to the puck through on net.”
The goal sent the XL Center into a frenzy, but the Whale wasn’t done just yet.
Both teams had opportunities in overtime through the first four minutes, but nothing of exceptional note. However, the final minute will be one that Whale fans speak of for a long, long time.
With 52 seconds to go, Nick Dodge retrieved a puck in the left corner only to have Newbury take it from him and advance up the wall. Blake Bellemore got the puck free and it found the stick of ex-Wolf Pack defenseman, and one-time New York Rangers first round pick, Bobby Sanguinetti, playing in his first game at the XL Center since being traded last season. Sanguinetti made a great pass to a wide-open Dodge who was one-on-one with Grumet-Morris. The Whale netminder did a split that would make Jean-Claude Von Damme cringe and threw his catching glove up for the top corner. Dodge threw the puck at the net, but Grumet-Morris stoned him cold.
Then Jeremy Williams tried to advance the puck out of the Whale zone up the left side. But as he got to the point, he was stripped by Chris Terry who pushed the puck back to Dodge in the slot. Dodge came to the center of the ice and Grumet-Morris stayed with him. Dodge then make a quick pass over to ex-Wolf Pack defenseman Bryan Rodney in the right face-off circle. Rodney one-timed the pass with a shot postmarked for the short side upper corner of the net. Grumet-Morris make a quick move and split throwing his glove up high behind Parlett who went to a knee to try and block the shot. Grumet-Morris stole the puck right out of the air to end the threat with just 44.8 left.
But again, he wasn’t done!
John Mitchell was on the left point and attempted to make a pass but had it deflected away by Zac Dalpe. The Checker center won a foot race with Mitchell to the puck in the Whale zone on the left wing side. Dalpe fired the puck on net form the left circle that Grumet-Morris handled, but left a juicy rebound that came right back into the slot. Bickel neutralized Zach Boychuk charging the net, but nobody picked up Sanguinetti who put the puck back on net only to have Grumet-Morris deny him with the pads with 27 seconds left to play.
Evgeny Grachev picked up the puck and rushed it up net as time was winding down and once he got into the offensive zone turned it up and fired a shot from the left circle that was intended for the upper corner, but the Russian missed and shot the puck over the net for what would be the final play of the period.
In the shootout, John Mitchell went first for the home team and put on more fakes than a midway grifter and pulled Pogge to the right and went to the backhand and stuffed it into the open net.
Grumet-Morris was then beaten by a quick release under the blocker by Dalpe who has been highly effective in the skills competition and is now at 54.5% on 6-for-11 in his attempts.
Williams was denied on his 5hole attempt and Cedric McNicoll was denied by a pad save by the Whale goaltender.
Newbury made so many moves that he lost control of the puck and then Terry was again denied by the leg work of Grumet-Morris.
Dale Weise went for his patented 5-hole rip, but Pogge closed up the gap before the puck could find daylight. MicFlickier then had a chance to give the Checkers the lead, left-winger’s shot missed wide.
That brought up the Whale’s fifth shooter, Grachev looking for the go-ahead tally.
The Khabarovsk, Russia native advanced up the right side and slowed as he came to the edge of the circle. Pogge was set to defend. Grachev looked up and fired his shot that went under the blocker and over Pogge’s pad and into the back of the net. Grachev’s shot had so much on it that it hit the back of the net and sent the water bottle flying.
“This was my first shootout goal in the AHL,” Grachev said afterwards. “I was getting opportunities, but not too many so maybe I’ll get more now and score again.”
But the Checkers had one more chance to extend the skills competition. Up stepped Matsumoto with the game on the line. Matsumoto came to the center red line 2-for-4 on the season in shootout attempts. Matsumoto came up the right wing side with speed, made a couple of shimmies, but Grumet-Morris stayed with him. Matsumoto faked like he was going to go glove side and pulled it back to head across the crease. Grumet-Morris recovered from biting on the initial fake and slid across and got his leg and blocker down. Matsumoto’s shot went harmlessly into Grumet-Morris’ pad and the Whale completed their highly improbable comeback.
The Whale win combined with the Shark’s 4-2 loss to the Providence Bruins moved the Whale to a six point advantage over their Massachusetts neighbor. It also reduced the Whale’s magic number to clinch third place in the Atlantic Division and a guaranteed spot in their pursuit of the franchise’s second Calder Cup, to 11 points with 8 games to play. Every point gained by the Whale and lost by the Sharks reduces that number.
“They played a great game,” Grumet-Morris said. “They trapped us very well and up until 2:21 left in the third, we had one goal against them in almost three complete games. That just tells you how good their goaltending and defensive scheme is.“
Actually, Valentenko’s goal ended a span of 123:45 where the Whale had been stymied and shutout by the Checkers. The last goal prior was Brodie Dupont’s goal at 13:54 of the third period on Feb. 24th in Charlotte against the now-injured Checker number one netminder, Mike Murphy.
The Checkers got on the board in the second period when Kale Kerbashian, playing in his second game with the Whale had the puck stripped from him by Brad Herauf in the neutral zone. Riley Nash picked up the puck and moved to the right side of the blueline. He fed the pass under Redden’s stick which created a 2-on-1 odd-man rush with MicNicoll on the left and Jared Nightingale between them. Heauf took the shot and beat Grumet-Morris over the blocker at 3:30 of the second.
The Whale surrendered a late goal as the second period came to a close allowing the Checkers to double their lead. Zach Fitzgerald sent the puck up the right wing boards from behind his own net. The puck first got by Dalpe near the half-boards and then Valentenko made a play for it, but the puck got past him and it became a race to the loose puck. Boychuk got there first in the neutral zone. Valentenko reached out to get it back from Boychuk, but the centerman had too much speed and was gone. Boychuk advanced the puck with speed and came into the Whale zone and fired a slap shot from the faceoff circle and it looked like Grumet-Morris got most of it and the puck just trickled through his pads and into the back of the net with just 25 seconds left in the period.
“We tried to stay positive and not get frustrated,” Grachev said. “We had our chances in the first two periods but had some bad bounces and missed nets. But we knew if we kept doing the right thing – working down low, putting pucks to the net and drive the net – good things would happen. Finally our defensemen got hot with two strikes from the blue line, and it’s so good to make such a big comeback against such a good team. To win in the shootout is a good win for us and now we have to keep rolling.”
The Whale get that chance, “to keep rolling,” on Saturday night when their intra-state rival and last place in the AHL, Bridgeport Sound Tigers return to the XL Center.
Stay in your seats and hold onto your hats until the last second ticks off because given the way this Whale team has played, there’s no telling how it might end.
(Standings via theahl.com)
SOUNDS OF THE GAME:
* Leslie Treff, one of the very nicest people there is in all of sports, writes a scouting report of what she thinks are the New York Rangers prospects which of course includes many of the Whale players at “Hockey’s Future.” She ranks them on the right side. Read her take and let’s discuss what you think of her assessments…
* Ex-Whale Mats Zucccarello is a healthy scratch for his first time since joining the New York Rangers for tonight’s battle with the Boston Bruins. Sean Avery, who spent some time with the Hartford Wolf Pack, returns to the Rangers line-up.
* Grumet-Morris took a hard hit from Nicholas Blanchard at 8:02 of the first period that left the netminder down on the ice for a couple of minutes before getting back up and was obviously unaffected the rest of the way.
Dupont – Newbury – Weise
Grachev – Mitchell – Williams
Kerbashian – Lemieux – Tessier
Soryal – Garlock – Couture
Redden – Nightingale
Valentenko – Parlett
Bickel – Kundratek
(Assistant Captains Bold and Italicized)
Devin DiDiomete – Undisclosed – Day-to-Day
Chad Kolarik – Hamstring – 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 – E. Grachev
2. CT – D. Grumet-Morris
3. CHA – B. Herauf
ON ICE OFFICIALS:
Chris Cozzan (18)
Derek Wahl (46)
Kevin Redding (16)
“WARNING, WARNING WILL ROBINSON!” The Robot on the old 60’s TV Show used to say when impending danger approached. The Whale had a hugely emotional game against a very good Charlotte team and now face the last place Bridgeport Sound Tigers who won in regulation for the first time in 2011 against Portland no-less. They have to be VERY cautious of not being lulled to sleep by Bridgeport’s trapping style of defense or getting over-confident and making mistakes. The puck drops at 7pm 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.
Charlotte Checkers 2 at Connecticut Whale 3 (SO) – Status: Final SO
Friday, March 25, 2011 – XL Center Veterans Memorial Coliseum
Charlotte 0 2 0 0 – 2
Connecticut 0 0 2 0 – 3
1st Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Herauf Cha (boarding), 6:42; Blanchard Cha (goaltender interference), 8:02.
2nd Period-1, Charlotte, Herauf 3 (Nash), 3:30. 2, Charlotte, Boychuk 20 (Micflikier, FitzGerald), 19:35. Penalties-Williams Ct (tripping), 13:13.
3rd Period-3, Connecticut, Valentenko 4 (Parlett, Newbury), 17:39. 4, Connecticut, Bickel 2 (Redden, Mitchell), 18:52. Penalties-No Penalties
OT Period- No Scoring.Penalties-No Penalties
Shootout – Charlotte 1 (Dalpe G, McNicoll NG, Terry NG, Micflikier NG, Matsumoto NG), Connecticut 2 (Mitchell G, Williams NG, Newbury NG, Weise NG, Grachev G).
Shots on Goal-Charlotte 5-10-11-5-0-31. Connecticut 12-15-8-1-1-37.
Power Play Opportunities-Charlotte 0 / 1; Connecticut 0 / 2.
Goalies-Charlotte, Pogge 18-16-4 (36 shots-34 saves). Connecticut, Grumet-Morris 11-3-1 (31 shots-29 saves).
Referees-Chris Cozzan (18).
Linesmen-Derek Wahl (46), Kevin Redding (16).