SPOTLIGHT: AL MONTOYA

Bruce Berlet 7BY: Bruce Berlet

Friday night wasn’t exactly what former Hartford Wolf Pack goalie Al Montoya and AHL Hall of Famer Bruce Boudreau had in mind, but it did have some redeeming value.

Montoya played his first game in the building where he watched games as a kid and stood for the spine-tingling national anthem as a Chicago Blackhawks fan. The New York Rangers’ first-round pick (sixth overall) in 2004, who played 119 games for the Wolf Pack in 2005-08, had several chances to get an emotional win before Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, who scored shorthanded in the second period, had the only goal in a shootout to beat the New York Islanders, 5-4.

“It was one of the most emotional games I’ve ever been a part of,” Montoya, 26, a graduate of the University of Michigan who grew up in nearby Glenview, Ill., told reporters after the game. “I kind of held it back, but I’m glad that one’s out of the way. It was something I can’t describe and something I’ll never forget.”

Montoya reportedly spent $3,800 to buy 25 tickets for family and friends to attend the game, and his mother got lots of air on the telecast, including making a cell phone call immediately after Matt Moulson hit the post on the Islanders’ third shootout attempt, ending a two-game winning streak on the road. Allowing four goals and losing in the shootout wasn’t a dream ending, but the Islanders got a point and proved something by hanging tough with a highly-skilled team that they outshot 41-36 in a thoroughly entertaining offensive display.

“We did good things,” Montoya said. “You can’t forget that. We went in the right direction, but a play here or a play there, it should’ve been our game and two points just like that. Being able to come into this building, where they don’t lose, we showed up tonight and it was a big effort.”

Moulson, former Wolf Pack wing P.A. Parenteau, rejuvenated Kyle Okposo and rookie Nino Niederreiter, recently recalled from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, scored for the Islanders (7-11-5), who are last in the NHL in scoring but had the four goals and forced Corey Crawford (37 saves) to make several acrobatic stops to keep the Blackhawks in the game. And Crawford was perfect in the shootout, denying Frans Nielsen and Niederreiter before Moulson hit the post.

After controlling the second period, the Blackhawks (15-8-3) were dominated the rest of the way, while being outshot 23-7 in the third period and 3-0 in the five-minute overtime. Though Toews ultimately saved the Blackhawks, coach Joel Quenneville, the former Hartford Whalers defenseman, wasn’t exactly gushing with enthusiasm afterwards.

“It’s great to win,” said Quenneville, whose team blew two one-goal leads in the third period. “Defensively it was perfect going into the third period. We gave up a small amount of shots and a very limited number of chances (in the first two periods), and everything exploded in the third.

“We’ve got to be more composed, particularly when the game’s on the line, in our own end. Our defensive zone coverage got way out of sorts and we’ve got to get back to tighten it up and be more predictable … we really ran around there in the third.”

The Blackhawks’ scorers included Avon native Ben Smith, who starred at the Westminster School in Simsbury for coach Tommy Earl, a former Whalers center, and helped Boston College win two national championships. Smith’s first goal of the season at 6:41 of the second period made it 2-2 and came off a rebound of his own shot from in front of the crease. Toews scored shorthanded with only 1:19 left in the second to make it 3-2, but Parenteau’s fourth goal only 46 seconds into the third during the same four-minute power play evened it at 3-3.

Patrick Sharp and Niederreiter traded goals later in the third period before the Blackhawks hung on and then prevailed thanks to their captain.

“It was definitely a tighter, more hard fought game than we’re used to playing against that team,” Toews said. “(There were) just a couple little mistakes that we have to get after, and learn from, especially late in that game where we’re protecting a lead. If we do that, we’ll be a little more relaxed, a little more comfortable in the third period trying to go for two points.”

But any disappointment for the Blackhawks and Montoya paled in comparison to Boudreau, who had set a NHL record for the fastest hiring after being fired when he was let go by the Washington Capitals on Monday morning and replaced Randy Carlyle as Anaheim Ducks coach on Wednesday night.

The Ducks had a 3-0 lead late in the second period before losing 4-3 to the Philadelphia Flyers on an overtime winner by Claude Giroux with 1:31 left, after Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf drew a double minor for tripping and unsportsmanlike conduct 41 seconds into extra time.

The Ducks came out flying for their new coach and took a seemingly safe lead on goals by Andrew Cogliano, Teemu Selanne and Andrew Gordon. But former Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr scored twice after missing six games since Nov. 14 with a groin injury and gritty Scott Hartnell tied it with 3:02 left in regulation.

“Even when we were down 2-0, 3-0, we didn’t play that bad,” Jagr said. “We had some shifts where we cycled the puck really well. And it was just a matter of time as to when the puck would go in.”

Giroux, stationed in the left circle, won it when he rocketed a pass from Danny Briere past Jonas Hiller to please a large segment of a Honda Center crowd divided between Flyers and Ducks fans who came out for Boudreau’s debut.

“They came out pretty strong and obviously they’ve got pretty good players that can put the puck in the net,” said Giroux, whose team outshot Anaheim by a whopping 47-22 margin. “They made a couple of mistakes at the end, and we kind of re-grouped as a team.

“To be able to come back on the road like that is pretty fun. Guys don’t quit, we had a lot of energy and guys can skate. Anytime you play a game like that, it’s pretty fun.”

But not for Getzlaf and Boudreau. Getzlaf hooked Jakub Voracek early in overtime, and the additional penalty for complaining to the officials was the difference because the Ducks killed off the first two minutes.

“It won’t happen again,” the Ducks’ captain said. “That kind of penalty at the end of the game hurt our group tonight. I’ll take that on me and we’ll go forward from there. … I’ve said a lot worse to referees. I’m not afraid to admit that. At the end of the game like that, it’s tough to make that call. I definitely regret what I did and it won’t happen again.”

Boudreau drew cheers when introduced on the video screen before the start of the game, and Ducks roared out to a 2-0 lead in the opening 10:34. But they began to be slowed chasing the forwards of the Flyers, who wound up with nine power plays and scored three times with the man advantage.

“You’re not going to beat that club if you take (11) minors,” said Boudreau, who needed a crash course to learn his new team after being fired after four years with the Capitals. “I played against them too many times. They have too much skill and are the highest scoring team in the league for a reason. It was one of the things I was a little worried about.”

But like Montoya, Boudreau took some positives out of the game, as the Ducks (7-13-5), tied for the second-fewest points in the league with the Islanders, looked much looser offensively.

“There is more skill up front than I thought there was,” Boudreau said. “The energy and enthusiasm on the bench was really good. Everybody left everything they had on the ice. It wasn’t a question of people not giving it their all. They tried hard.”

WHALE FINALLY GETTING SOME STEADY HOME COOKING

When the Whale played at Springfield on Saturday night, it was their 15th of 22 games on the road. But they will play nine of their last 12 games in 2011 at the XL Center, starting Sunday at 3 p.m. against the defending Calder Cup champion Binghamton Senators.

The Whale completes their tough stretch of the season so far against a team that has had a post-Calder Cup hangover after winning its first AHL title as assistant coach Steve Stirling, former coach of the Sound Tigers and Islanders, was in a hospital recovering from a hasty quadruple heart bypass on June 5, two days before the Senators’ clinching victory in Houston. The Senators opened the season with three losses and were last in the East Division and 28th in the 30-team AHL entering games Saturday night despite a 4-1 victory over Syracuse Crunch on Friday night.

Veteran right wing Mark Parrish (eight goals, six assists) leads the Senators in scoring, followed by left wings Nikita Filatov (7, 5), called up by the parent Ottawa Senators on Monday, and Mike Hoffman (5, 7). Former Wolf Pack center Corey Locke, the AHL MVP last season after getting 21 goals and 65 assists in 69 games, has no goals and seven assists in eight games after starting the season on the injured list and is again out. Robin Lehner (5-8-1, 2.90 goals-against average, .916 save percentage) and Mike McKenna (3-5-0, 3.01, .912) have shared the goaltending. Fans can participate in a post-game skate but make sure you bring your own blades.

The Whale then host the Hershey Bears on Friday night in Bourque Brothers Bowl II, as the Whale’s Ryan Bourque plays against older brother Chris for the second time in 11 days. Ryan had his best game of the season Tuesday night, as the Whale beat the Bears 4-2 despite Chris getting a goal and an assist as their parents, including Hockey Hall of Famer Ray Bourque, and about a dozen friends from Boxford, Mass., looked on. Chad Johnson had a solid game in goal, and defenseman Pavel Valentenko scored his second goal in as many nights to break a 2-2 tie with 4:04 left, before unselfish plays by Jordan Owens and Kelsey Tessier set up Chris McKelvie’s first goal of the season into an empty net.

AHL scoring leader and perennial All-Star center Keith Aucoin (four goals, league-leading 29 assists) assisted on goals by Bourque and Graham Mink, the second deflecting off Valentenko’s skate and past Johnson.

“It was my first two-goal game in North America,” Valentenko quipped.

Aucoin had three assists Friday night, and he and Bourque (team-leading 11 goals, 18 assists) set up former Wolf Pack defenseman Tomas Kundratek’s first goal of the season and as a member of the Bears. Kundratek was traded on Nov. 8 for wing Francois Bouchard, whose best friend on the Bears was Chris Bourque during three seasons in Hershey and Washington and being a key contributor to Calder Cup titles in 2009 and 2010. Kundratek was in his third season in Hartford. Former Wolf Pack left wing and Bears captain Boyd Kane (8, 4) missed the first game against the Whale because Hershey has too many veterans (260 or more games in the NHL, AHL, IHL and European Elite Leagues), and it was his turn to sit out.

On Saturday night, the Whale begins a home-and-home set with Providence, which was on a 0-6-0-1 slide after a 4-1 loss to the Whale on Friday night as Johnson was again solid in goal with 28 saves, many as the Whale went 7-for-7 on the penalty kill.

“I thought Johnner had a good night,” Whale coach Ken Gernander told the media afterwards. “A lot of times your best penalty killer is your goaltender.”

Wing Mats Zuccarello had a goal and an assist, veteran center Kris Newbury scored in his return from a four-game suspension, rookie right wing Scott Tanski notched his first goal as a pro and Owens and defenseman Jared Nightingale each had two assists.

BRACELETS TO BENEFIT LOKMOTIV FAMILIES

Whale wives and girlfriends will be selling bracelets to benefit the families of those lost in the tragic plane crash on Sept. 7 involving the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv team in the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia on Friday and Saturday night.

“Love for Lokomotiv” bracelets will be available as part of a united effort to show support for the grieving families for those lost in the Lokomotiv tragedy, hockey wives and girlfriends around the world are raising money for their dear friends. Show your support next weekend with the comfortable red silicone bracelet, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the foundation set up in honor of the lost team.

You can learn more about “Love for Lokomotiv” and find out how you can help at loveforlokomotiv.com.

ODDS AND END-BOARDS

On Friday night, the Whale will be giving a set of trading cards to 5,000 fans, courtesy of Webster Bank. The first of three releases includes Johnson, Newbury, Zuccarello, defenseman Wade Redden and rookie left wing Carl Hagelin, who is on recall to the New York Rangers. The other dates for the card sets of players to be announced are Jan. 27 against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and March 16 against Bridgeport. Saturday also will be the first televised Whale game in five seasons when WCCT airs the meeting with the Bruins. That game also will feature the Whale’s annual Teddy Bear Toss. Fans can bring a teddy bear to toss on the ice after the first Whale goal. If there are no goals scored, they will be thrown at the end of the game. People who forget to bring a bear can purchase one at the game and all the money and the bears will be donated to St. Jude Connecticut Network that benefits St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. … Speaking of teddy bears, Christian Thomas, the Rangers’ second-round pick in 2010, scored the “Teddy Bear Goal” for the second straight year in a five-point night, as Oshawa rallied from an early 2-0 deficit to rout Sarnia 8-4 in an Ontario Hockey League game Friday night. After a forgettable November that included difficulty scoring and a 10-game suspension, Thomas began December with a natural hat trick in the first period and added two assists in the third. Thomas’ first goal caused 4,012 teddy bears to be tossed on to the ice, as he became the first Rangers prospect to score such a goal two years running. Thomas, the son of former NHL wing Steve Thomas and author of 95 goals the past two seasons with Oshawa, now has 11 goals and nine assists in 19 games and is on a five-game scoring streak (six goals, four assists), as he bids to make Team Canada for the World Junior Championships. At the other end of the spectrum, fellow right wing Jesper Fasth, the Rangers’ sixth-round pick in 2010, fractured his foot and will miss three months. He had five goals and 11 assists in 21 games with HV71 Jonkoping in the Swedish Elite League when he was injured. Good luck healing, Jesper, and maybe we’ll see you and Christian in Hartford in late March or early April, though lengthy playoff runs for both would be nice.

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