The Connecticut Whale fought back valiantly from a three-goal deficit, not once but TWICE, and finally tied it early in the third on a Brodie Dupont goal. But as has been the case with this team all season long with the entire team, Dupont’s undisciplined penalty just five seconds after his goal set up the Portland Pirates for what would be the game winner, and a 5-4 win at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Game Five of their best-of-seven AHL Atlantic Division semi-final series. Portland now holds a 3-2 series lead over their Connecticut neighbors.
“It keeps coming back to the little things,” Whale head coach Ken Gernander said to reporters after the game. “The majority of our guys battled hard. But it’s the penalties and little mistakes that take us out of it.”
After the Whale had worked their way back from a 3-0 and 4-1 deficit, Dupont got the Whale even just 1:36 into the third period when he came down the right side of the slot and took a terrific pass right on his stick blade from behind the net by rookie Kelsey Tessier. Dupont ripped a shot past Portland starting goaltender David Leggio (3-2-0, 34 saves).
But the jubilation on the Whale bench only lasted five seconds. On the ensuing faceoff, Dupont was whistled for a senseless tripping call that put the Whale back on the penalty kill for the third time and be the last time Dupont would see any ice time in the game.
After ending an 0-22 streak over three games earlier in the game, Portland cashed in for a second time on the man-advantage with what would prove to be the game winner off the stick of veteran Mark Parrish.
Defenseman Dennis Persson made a centering pass in front of the Whale net that got blocked by the shot blocking machine known as Pavel Valentenko. The puck got stuck in the young Russian’s skates in front of the goal. Parrish saw it and jumped on it and fired it into the net.
“The power play’s been struggling, obviously,” Parrish said to reporters afterwards. “You’ve got to simplify and get to the net, get pucks to the net and get bodies to the net. Hopefully something will be laying there and somebody will capitalize.”
For Head Coach Ken Gernander’s group, it was the same story it’s been all season long. Inconsistency of effort from one game to the next, matched with a failure to maintain discipline by taking too many bad penalties at the wrong times and a general failure, as Gernander said, in key spots to execute on, “the little things.”
One thing that has been consistent for the Connecticut Whale all season has been injuries, which, once again were a major factor in Game Five.
Connecticut played without arguably their best player, forward Dale Weise. The right-winger, who’s battled injuries that caused him to miss significant playing time all season, was hurt again on Tuesday night. Weise was playing a puck in the offensive zone along the wall when he was run from behind hard into the boards by AHL Rookie-of-the-Year, Luke Adam. The former forth round draft pick (111th overall) by the Rangers in the 2008 draft skated off the ice with his arm hung low sustaining some sort of shoulder injury that remains undisclosed. Weise’s status remains in serious doubt regardless if the Whale should be able to overcome this deficit and move on.
Perhaps the busiest guy on the Whale bench was trainer Damien Hess who had his hands full Thursday night as well. In addition to dealing with the normal bumps and bruises that come in any hockey game at this level, he also had to deal with Mats Zuccarello, who in his first game back after being returned to the Whale by the parent New York Rangers, had a huge game against the Portland Pirates on Tuesday. Zuccarello was forced to leave the game late in the first period with some sort of arm injury. “The Norwegian Hobbit” did not return to the game and is questionable for the rest of the series.
Also injured in the contest, at least temporarily, was goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris (2-2-0 13 saves). In the first period Pirates center Matt Ellis took a hard shot from just inside the left circle hit the Whale’s MVP in an awkward spot in the chest. Grumet-Morris went down after the whistle was blown and Hess came out quickly to check him out. Grumet-Morris spoke to the trainer for a moment and then skated it off and remained in the game. But in the second period, Hess had to deal with his netminder a second time and again it was Ellis’s hot that hurt him. This time Ellis’s slap shot from in close on the right side of the net and it hit Grumet-Morris squarely in the head. The Whale goaltender went down immediately and the whistle was blown to stop play. The 29-year old Evanston, Illinois native tried to get up a couple of times and couldn’t. But the cobb webs cleared away soon and well-enough for him to get up and skate it off and he remained in the game.
The game did not start off well for any of the Whale.
3;10 into the contest, Mark Mancari, who was everywhere all night long and well-deserving of the game’s First Star honors, stole a puck in the Whale zone and got a terrific scoring chance that Grumet-Morris negated with a quick glove.
After Zuccarello took an inadvertent Goaltender Interference call at 8:28, Dupont let his emotions get the better of him and took a silly slashing call that put the Whale down two-men for 12 seconds at 10:16.
While the Whale were able to kill off the two-man advantage, Mark Mancari broke a streak of 23 straight failed power plays when his shot from the blue line was misplayed by Grumet-Morris, who went down too soon and watched as the shot sailed over his shoulder into the net for the 1-0 lead at 11:28.
With just 2:13 remaining in the period, Travis Turnbull got his first goal and point of the playoffs when his shot from the high slot appeared to hit Wade Redden’s stick and changed direction and went into the twine over Grumet-Morris for the two goal lead.
Just 18 seconds into the second period saw Ellis’s slapper hurt Grumet-Morris. It was a mere 27 seconds after that the Pirates would expand their lead to a field goal margin.
Mancari took a feed from Dennis Persson and blasted a shot from the left side. The puck hit Grumet-Morris on the pad and bounced in front of the crease. Adam picked it up and Grumet-Morris was slow getting over and the center easily slid the puck into the net ending Grumet-Morris’ night.
Cam Talbot (0-1-0, 22 saves) came in for the first time in the series in relief and the change seemed to spark his teammates.
Tim Conboy was called for a really blatant and equally stupid cross-check right in front of the referee at 1:33. While the Whale could not capitalize on this power play, they were able to make Adam pay for taking an equally foolish high sticking call at 4:10.
Kris Newbury, who was by a country mile the best player on the ice for either team, was playing insane hockey. Just 18 seconds into the Whale man advantage Newbury took a feed from Dupont and put it on net and then smacked in the rebound of his own shot. The goal, his first point of the series, got the Whale on the board at 4:28 to cut the lead and start the Whale comeback at 3-1.
Connecticut was bussing the net something ferocious late during the eighth minute of the period. When the Pirates eventually were able to clear the puck when Corey Tropp blocked a shot, Brian O’Hanley picked up the puck and sprung Dennis McCauley and Tropp out on a 2-on-1. Tropp was on the right and McCauley on the left. Tropp played it perfectly and waited till the last possible second and fed it to McCauley who buried it into the cage.
The Whale were once again down three goals. But not for long.
21 seconds later, Newbury got his second goal unassisted coming up the right wing side and blasting a shot from the right circle that beat Leggio high to the glove side.
After a Paul Byron slashing, Conboy and Stu Bickel got into some pushing and shoving and all three were sent off for two-minutes of cool off time in the penalty box with the Whale coming out of it with their third power play of the game at 11:26.
It didn’t take long for the Whale to bring it within a goal as Newbury’s shot from the right side deflected to John Mitchell on the left. His shot went off Person over to Chad Kolarik who caught just enough of the puck to get it airborne over Leggio and into the net.
For the Whale, Newbury, he had two goals and an assist. Dupont and Kolarik each had a goal and a helper.
The Pirates saw Persson get three helpers and Mancari had a goal and two assists and Tropp had two as well.
Pirates head coach Kevin Dineen had a stout warning for both clubs and one that the Whale had best heed when the two teams tangle at the XL Center Saturday for Game Six and with Connecticut’s back against the wall. “You get a three-goal lead and look what happens,” he told reporters after the game. “No lead is safe in the playoffs and we proved that.”
Jared Nightingale told Howlings that there wasn’t a single person on the Whale’s bus ride back to Hartford with a doubt that they can come home and win a Game Six and head back to Portland for Game Seven on Monday. “We’ll be ready,” the Whale defenseman said.
Brian Ring files a brief at CTWhale.com. Chris Roy, who was invaluable to our coverage of this game and provided Howlings the audio clips, has the Portland perspective at mainehockeyjournal.com. Rachel Lenzi covers the game for PressHerald.com.
* Regarding the hit by Adam on Weise on Tuesday night, even with the AHL having two referees on the ice for every game of the playoff stretch, neither one apparently saw the blatant and successful attempt to injure. There wasn’t so much as a penalty called on Adam when realistically he should have not only been tossed from the game, but should have received a suspension for the blindside hit.
Note to Dave Andrews…What’s the point in having two refs if they aren’t going to pay attention to where the puck is and ignore such an obvious call. It wasn’t even like it happened away from the play. Weise was playing the puck when the hit occurred.
* Devin DiDiomete had successful surgery on his ailing hip on Monday and said that this wasn’t as severe as the other hip that he had done last season. He said he will be ready for training camp. DiDiomete is a restricted free agent at the end of the season.
* Question of the Day. If Zuccarello and Weise are unable to play, who goes in? Most likely it will be Ryan Garlock and Jyri Niemi who take their spots.
* Although he didn’t play in the third period, Derek Couture is not injured and ready to take on the Pirates challenge in Game Six.
SOUNDS OF THE GAME:
Grachev – Mitchell – Williams
Zuccarello – Newbury – Kolarik
Hagelin – Dupont – Tessier
Grant – Lemieux – Couture
Redden – Nightingale
Valentenko – Parlett
Bickel – Kundratek
(Assistant Captains Bold and Italicized)
Todd White – Concussion – Season
Devin DiDiomete – Hip – Season
Dale Weise – Upper Body – Day-to-Day
Michael Del Zotto – Broken Finger – Day-to-Day
Justin Soryal – Undisclosed – Day-to-Day
Dylan McIlrath – Healthy Scratch
Jason Missiaen – Healthy Scratch
Kale Kerbashian – Healthy Scratch
Andrew Yogan – Healthy Scratch
Shayne Wiebe – Healthy Scratch
Jyri Niemi – Healthy Scratch
1. POR – M. Mancari
2. POR – C. Tropp
3. CT – K. Newbury
ON ICE OFFICIALS:
David Banfield (44)
Chris Brown (86)
Landon Bathe (80)
Joe Ross (92)
Saturday it’s all the marbles on the table for the Connecticut Whale; win and they head back to Maine on Monday; lose and it’s go home. The puck drops at the XL Center at 7pm with Bob Crawford handling the play-by-play and Mark Bailey on the color commentary. Pregame starts at 6:30.
To watch the game live, you can purchased it for $9.99 at AHL-live.
For Ticket information for all home games, call (860) 548-2000.
Connecticut Whale 4 at Portland Pirates 5 – Status: Final
Thursday, April 21, 2011 – Cumberland County Civic Center
Connecticut 0 3 1 – 4
Portland 2 2 1 – 5
1st Period-1, Portland, Mancari 1 (Voakes, Byron), 11:28 (PP). 2, Portland, Turnbull 1 (Tropp, Persson), 17:47. Penalties-Zuccarello Ct (goaltender interference), 8:28; Dupont Ct (slashing), 10:16.
2nd Period-3, Portland, Adam 2 (Mancari, Persson), 0:45. 4, Connecticut, Newbury 1 (Dupont, Kolarik), 4:28 (PP). 5, Portland, McCauley 1 (Tropp, O’Hanley), 9:03. 6, Connecticut, Newbury 2 9:24. 7, Connecticut, Kolarik 2 (Mitchell, Newbury), 12:03 (PP). Penalties-Conboy Por (cross-checking), 1:33; Adam Por (high-sticking), 4:10; Bickel Ct (roughing), 11:26; Byron Por (slashing), 11:26; Conboy Por (roughing), 11:26; Roloff Por (high-sticking), 16:10; McCauley Por (boarding), 19:32.
3rd Period-8, Connecticut, Dupont 1 (Parlett, Tessier), 1:36. 9, Portland, Parrish 1 (Persson, Mancari), 2:44 (PP). Penalties-Dupont Ct (tripping), 1:41; Hagelin Ct (high-sticking), 5:14.
Shots on Goal-Connecticut 9-15-14-38. Portland 13-17-10-40.
Power Play Opportunities-Connecticut 2 / 5; Portland 2 / 4.
Goalies-Connecticut, Grumet-Morris 2-2-0 (16 shots-13 saves); Talbot 0-1-0 (24 shots-22 saves). Portland, Leggio 3-2-0 (38 shots-34 saves).
Referees-David Banfield (44), Chris Brown (86).
Linesmen-Landon Bathe (80), Joe Ross (92).
(Photo courtesy of Portland Press Herald)