REDEMPTION

Connecticut-Whale_thumb_thumb_thumb_      VERSUS     Portland

(I feel like I need to apologize to the readers of Howlings. I haven’t written my normal stories for the games on Friday and last night. This is as some of you may or may not know, started as a hobby for me but has progressed to the point where it has become a non-paying — and actually I pay quite a bit of money for all of it — part-time job. Well the job that does pay me, my employment agency Crossroads Consulting, has had an explosion of business the past three days and frankly it was difficult to find the time to even get to the games at all. I am also having incredible computer problems that are messing up both “jobs” so I haven’t had the time to dedicate to this as I should. So for that I apologize. We’ll get it right again this coming week…once again, I apologize.)

Bruce BerletBY: Bruce Berlet

After being shut out by the Springfield Falcons at home for the first time in 15 seasons on Saturday night, Connecticut Whale coach Ken Gernander almost completely shuffled his deck Sunday afternoon.

Gernander changed all four lines, two of the three defensive pairings and started Cam Talbot in goal for the first time in 11 games since Feb. 19.

It took longer than Gernander and the Whale would have hoped, but shootout goals by Brendan Bell and Casey Wellman and four successive saves by Talbot produced a 5-4 victory at the XL Center.

“I thought we had a good two periods, and then we seemed to sit back a bit and stopped skating a bit instead of keeping the pressure on,” Whale veteran defenseman and captain Wade Redden said. “We kind of stopped moving our feet and then got some (strange) bounces. We have to stay a little more poised and have a little more urgency, even when we’re up a couple (goals), but the good thing is we got the two points.”

That could be traced largely to the line of rookie wings Tommy Grant (two goals, two assists) and All-Star Jonathan Audy-Marchessault (two goals) and second-year center Kelsey Tessier (two assists and yeoman work on face-offs and the penalty kill). Audy-Marchessault got the Whale to overtime when he scored his second of the game and 22nd of the season when he flipped Grant’s rebound past Peter Mannino (38 saves) with 2:05 left after the Pirates had scored three third-period goals, two by former New York Rangers prospect Ethan Werek, to take a 4-3 lead.

After the Pirates had a 6-1 shot advantage in overtime, Bell and Wellman scored on the Whale’s first two tries in the shootout and Talbot stopped All-Stars Andy Miele and Brett Sterling, Mathieu Beaudoin and David Rundblad to improve to 3-0 in shootouts.

“I definitely had to get my game legs under me,” Talbot said. “I thought I did a good job the first couple of periods, and then it might have caught up to me a little at the beginning of the third. I wasn’t as sharp as we should have been, but then I kind of shook off those three goals and came back with a few saves to get it to overtime and the shootout.

“We let off the gas a little bit, and the first goal on the power play kind of gave them a little momentum. It wasn’t the ideal win giving them a point, but we still came out with the two points. We practice a lot of breakaways at the end of practice, so I’ve learned to try to stay patient and focused, making them make the first move and then just kind of moving with them.”

After a 3-0 loss to Springfield and rookie goalie Mike Clemente on Saturday night, the Whale (33-21-5-5) moved to 7-5 in shootouts and increased their Northeast Division lead to four points over the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, who lost 5-2 at Worcester. The Whale is 3-2-1 against the Pirates, winning in overtime, regulation and now a shootout at the XL Center, where they have an AHL-best 19-6-2-4 record. It was a tough extra point to lose for the Pirates (29-28-3-4), who are now 4-4 in shootouts and tied for 11th in the Eastern Conference with Albany with 65 points, two behind Worcester, which holds the eighth and final playoff spot, and one point behind Springfield and Syracuse.

“It’s very frustrating to give it back to them after we worked hard to get the lead,” Pirates coach Ray Edwards said. “We broke down in coverage (on Audy-Marchessault’s tying goal), so it’s just very frustrating for that to happen at that point in the game. In our situation, if we fight like hell to get back, we’ve got to close it out.”

The Pirates also might have lost hustling wing Ryan Duncan, who assisted on Werek’s two goals but was taken to St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center by ambulance after Wellman’s skate glazed his face midway through overtime, opening a cut from one cheek under his nose to the other cheek.

“It’s a nasty cut,” Edwards said. “It wasn’t bleeding that much, but we knew it was a bad one right away when he came to the bench.”

Grant sliced up the Pirates much of the game while recording his first four-point game in six years. Grant had been on an energy line with Kelsey Tessier and Scott Tanski much of the season, but being put with Audy-Marchessault amped up his offensive game.

“It has a lot to do with confidence and just going to the net more and trying to get into better scoring areas,” said Grant, who has four of his 10 goals and four of his 12 assists in the last seven games. “Before, I was just trying to chip pucks in and hit everything that moved. Now, it’s kind of trying to make a little mixture and playing with Tess and Marchie, they’re skilled players that can make plays in high traffic areas. When you’re playing with skilled players, you have to find a way to get shots and make things happen.”

Talbot stopped a wide-open Miele 5:25 into the game, but moments later, Beaudoin dug the puck out of the right corner to Miele, who roofed a shot over Talbot’s right shoulder for his 13th goal at 5:40.

Talbot kept it close when he flicked out his left pad on Nick Ross’ shot from 30 feet in the slot with 7:45 left before Mannino made his first save when he dove to stop Grant’s deflection of a centering pass by Audy-Marchessault. Then on the game’s first power play, Mannino stopped Wellman’s one-timer on the doorstep off an Andre Deveaux setup with 5:09 left and denied Audy-Marchessault racing in off the right wing with 3:48 to go.

Mannino capped a strong first period in which he had 15 saves by getting his right pad on defenseman Pavel Valentenko’s 50-foot slap shot from the right point with 1:38 left. But the Whale continued to press at the start of the second period and tied it with the teams skating four aside as Tessier stole the puck from Rundblad along the left boards and backhanded a pass across the slot to a wide-open Grant for an easy finish into an open net at 58 seconds.

Then six seconds after the teams returned to five a side, Valentenko blocked Mark Louis’ shot to Grant, who raced through the neutral zone and dropped a pass to Audy-Marchessault, who beat Mannino with a 35-foot shot low to the glove side at 1:56.

The Pirates nearly tied it on their first power play, but Talbot denied Duncan at the right post, Miele lifted a backhander wide on a breakaway and Duncan hit the post. After both sides missed several excellent scoring chances, the Whale took a 3-1 lead when Tessier won a faceoff from Miele to Grant, who fired a 30-foot shot in the slot that beat Mannino to the glove side with 5:01 left in the period.

The Pirates had a golden opportunity to cut into their deficit during their second power play, but Talbot made an alert pad save on Sterling’s one-timer from 25 feet in the slot with 48 seconds to go. But the Pirates did get to 3-2 when Duncan skated into the Whale zone and passed to Alexander Bolduc, who had two shots stopped before Werek converted the second rebound for his sixth goal at 5:13 of the third period.

The Pirates then got even on their third power play as Tyler Eckford dug out the puck along the right boards and passed into the slot to Aaron Rome, whose 35-foot shot glanced off Talbot’s glove and into the net for his eighth goal at 7:40.

The Pirates had a golden opportunity to reclaim the lead when Kenndal McArdle found Werek coming out of the penalty box for a breakaway that Talbot stopped with his right pad with 8:25 left. But another strong play by Duncan helped regain the lead for the Pirates as he carried the puck to the goal line extended and backhanded a pass that Werek lifted home for his second goal of the period and seventh of the season with 5:54 left.

But Audy-Marchessault sent the game to overtime when he converted Grant’s rebound for his second goal of the game and 22nd of the season with 2:05 left after a shot from the left point by Brendan Bell.

“It started with a good point shot that got to the net, then Grant pounces on the rebound and catches some iron,” Gernander said. “So we had two guys, Grant and Audy-Marchessault, going to the net for rebounds, and Marchie showed nice hands to finish from such a sharp angle and get it up over the goalie.”

The Pirates outshot the Whale 6-1 in the five extra minutes, but Talbot was sharp, especially on Bolduc’s bid from the left circle with 38 seconds left and then excelled in the shootout.

“It’s promising when you find a way to win games like that,” Grant said. “They got three quick goals, and it’s easy to shut it down, but good teams find a way to win games like that, and we did.”

Whale coach Ken Gernander was happy all was well that ended well but hopes his troops learned an important lesson, especially heading down the stretch.

“I give the guys full credit,” Gernander said. “Three games in three days on a Sunday, but they stuck with it to get the goal with two minutes remaining. (But) with a two-goal lead from here on out, you have to play the style of game that’s going to be a given that you’re going to be able to maintain that lead. If you’re managing your game and playing sound hockey with defense first, you have to have better awareness with a two-goal lead, and that’s something we’ll have to improve upon moving forward.”

Ironically, the Whale’s next moves will be against the Pirates, who visit the XL Center on Friday night.

GRITTY NEWBURY PLAYS

Whale veteran center/assistant captain/leading scorer Kris Newbury played after leaving the game Saturday night with 4:18 left in the second period when he was injured when checked into the boards by defenseman Dalton Prout. Newbury had X-rays taken at a hospital and returned minutes after the game ended.

“He’s a tough, competitive, courageous kid,” Gernander said. “There’s probably a lot of guys this time of year who aren’t playing at 100 percent, but I give him top marks for being able to fight through.”

In Gernander’s new forward alignment, Newbury started between Wellman and Deveaux. Tessier centered Grant and Audy-Marchessault, Jordan Owens was between Ryan Bourque and Scott Tanski and Andreas Thuresson was flanked by Prough and Blake Parlett, a converted defenseman who later returned to the blueline. The new defensive pairings were Redden being reunited with Jared Nightingale and Bell back alongside Sam Klassen. The only duo to remain intact was Valentenko and Mike Vernace.

The Whale scratched injured wing Francois Bouchard. The Pirates scratched injured Brett MacLean, Maxim Goncharov, Colin Long, Nathan Oystrick, Spencer Bennett and former Hartford Wolf Pack wing Ryan Hollweg.

ODDS AND ENDBOARDS

Left wing Andrew Yogan ended his junior career Sunday with a memorable “Gordie Howe Hat Trick” of four goals, one assist and one fight in Peterborough’s 8-6 victory over Oshawa in their Ontario Hockey League finale Sunday. Yogan also was plus-4 and had a game-high seven shots, but the Petes’ 27-34-3-4 record failed to qualify for the playoffs. Yogan, the Rangers’ fourth-round pick in 2010 from Boca Raton, Fla., finished the season with career highs in goals (41), assists (37) and points (78) and was plus-8 with 96 penalty minutes in 66 games. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Yogan had two goals and one assist in final two regular-season games with the Whale last season. His 6-4, 203-pound Peterborough teammate, defenseman Peter Ceresnak, the Rangers’ sixth-round pick in 2011 from Trencin, Slovakia, had six goals, nine assists and 64 PIM in 61 games in his first North American junior season.

Right wing Christian Thomas, the Rangers’ second-round pick in 2010, had a goal and an assist for Oshawa to finish the regular season with 34 goals and 33 assists in 54 games. Thomas, who was suspended for 10 games, and the Generals will meet Central Division champion Niagara in the first round of the playoffs.

Former Quinnipiac University standout Brandon Wong, who started last season with the Whale, had three goals and an assist as the Greenville Road Warriors beat visiting Cincinnati 5-1 Sunday to clinch a second straight playoff berth. Wong joined Justin Bowers, Marc-Olivier Vallerand and Brendan Connolly as players to record 100 points in his career with Greenville. Jason Missiaen, who finished last season with the Whale and was in training camp in the fall, had 46 saves as the Road Warriors improved to 40-22-2-3 and moved within two points of South Division leader Gwinnett.

Chris Kreider, the Rangers’ first-round pick (19th overall) in 2009, assisted on the second of freshman Johnny Gaudreau’s two goals as top-ranked Boston College beat No. 10 Maine 4-1 in the Hockey East final before 13,709 at TD Garden in Boston on Saturday night. Gaudreau also assisted on a goal by Pat Mullane of Wallingford, and goalie Parker Milner made 41 saves as the Eagles (29-10-1) became the first team to capture three consecutive tournament titles and a record 11 overall. Maine (23-13-3) played without conference Player of the Year Spencer Abbott, who was elbowed in the back of the head in the third period of Friday night’s 5-3 semifinal win over Boston University.

Fans can bid on AHL All-Star Classic jerseys, helmets, gloves and pucks at www.theahl.com. The Whale’s Audy-Marchessault and Mats Zuccarello and Greenwich native Cam Atkinson of the Springfield Falcons were on the Eastern Conference team, which was captained by former Wolf Pack left wing Boyd Kane, captain of the Hershey Bears. Zuccarello is on recall to the New York Rangers and Atkinson to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

RANGERS RETAIN DIVISION, CONFERENCE LEAD

The Rangers retained their Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference leads when All-Star Scott Hartnell scored with 0.9 seconds left in overtime to give the Philadelphia Flyers a come-from-behind 3-2 victory over Pittsburgh, ending the Penguins’ 11-game winning streak.

The Rangers (44-20-7) are one point ahead of the Penguins (44-21-6) entering a home game against the New Jersey Devils on Monday night. The Penguins beat the Devils 5-2 Friday night as Sidney Crosby had three assists in his second game since Dec. 5 after missing 40 because of post-concussion symptoms. He was pointless against the Flyers (42-22-8), who rallied from a 2-0 deficit on goals by Kimmo Timmonen and two by Hartnell. Ilya Bryzgalov had 38 saves for the Flyers, while Marc Andre-Fleury had 24 for the Penguins.

Rookie defenseman Tim Erixon, recalled from the Whale after scoring in a 3-2 victory over the Sound Tigers on Friday night, was scoreless and minus-1 in 9:57 in the Rangers’ 3-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night. The Rangers had a season-high 42 shots, but only Mats Zuccarello, called up last Sunday, beat Semyon Varlamov.

The promotions of Zuccarello and Erixon, who were roommates while with the Whale, account for half of the recalls the Rangers are allowed until the Whale is eliminated from the playoffs.

Erixon told the New York media that he has gotten a better grasp of how to play on the smaller North American rinks while with the Whale. Erixon, the son of former Rangers wing Jan Erixon, was the first-round pick (23rd overall) of the Calgary Flames in 2009 and acquired last June with a fifth-round pick for two second-round picks and Roman Horak.

“I had to make adjustments because it’s a different game to play,” Erixon said. “I feel like I improved from the start of the year and kept improving when I went back after Christmas. I’ve spent a lot of time in the weight room and have been learning a lot. I hope I can use all that here.”

Zuccarello was confident Erixon would make a successful adjustment.

“He’s so smart with such a good hockey sense,” said Zuccarello, who played 14:32 and was a regular on the first power-play unit. “He takes what he learns and he uses that on the ice. He was in the gym every day. He wants to get stronger and he wants to get better. He’s gotten feistier and more aggressive in the corners. I think he’s going to be fine here.”

Bruce Berlet pulled double-duty covering the game for the PressHerald.com.

GAME SUMMARY and OFFICIAL SCORERS SHEET

SHOOTOUT RESULTS:

Capture

STANDINGS:

(Conference)

2Capture

(Division)

1Capture

(Standings provided by TheAHL.com)

SOUNDS OF THE GAME:

Ken Gernander: 

Cam Talbot: 

Tommy Grant: 

Kelsey Tessier: 

VIDEO:

Game Highlights

Game Highlights

Ken Gernander Post-Game Press Conference

Ken Gernander post-game press conference 03-18-12

NOTES:

* As you may or may not already know, the Norfolk Admirals won their 18th straight game setting the AHL consecutive winning streak record. The most impressive thing to us is that these are all REGULATION wins.

Here is the official AHL release:

The Norfolk Admirals established the longest winning streak in the 76-year history of the American Hockey League Sunday afternoon, posting their 18th consecutive victory with a 5-0 decision over the Charlotte Checkers at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, N.C.

Norfolk’s winning streak surpasses the previous mark held by the Philadelphia Phantoms, who won 17 straight games during the 2004-05 season. (The Syracuse Crunch also won 18 consecutive regular-season games, but they spanned the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons.)

The Admirals’ current 18-game win streak is also one better than the National Hockey League record, held by the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins.

LINES:

Grant – Tessier –Audy-Marchessault
Wellman – Newbury – Deveaux –
Bourque –  Owens – Tanski
Prough –  Thuresson – Parlett

REDDEN – Nightingale
Valentenko – Vernace
Bell – Klassen

Talbot
Johnson

(Captain in CAPS / Assistant Captains are Italicized)

SCRATCHES:

Francois Bouchard – Broken Wrist – Indefinite
Chad Kolarik – Knee – (Can’t Play Due To Roster Issue)
Sean Avery – Healthy Scratch

THREE STARS:

1. CT – T. Grant
2. CT – J. Audy-Marchessault
3. POR – E. Werek

ON ICE OFFICIALS:

Referee:
Jarrod Ragusin (54)

Linesmen:
Brent Colby (7)
Mike Baker (11)

NEXT GAME:

The Whale are off until next Friday when they will once again do the whole three-in-three thing again and it starts with Portland returning for a rematch. You can hear all the action with Bob Crawford, Garry Swain and Mark Bailey on WCCC.com starting at 2:50pm.

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.

Too far away or can’t make it? Listen live at WCCC.com or from your cell phone or computer you can get all the live action via our Twitter page:@HowlingsToday for all games both home and away.

SCORE SHEET:

Portland Pirates 4 at Connecticut Whale 5 (SO) – Status: Final SO
Sunday, March 18, 2012 – XL Center Veterans Memorial Coliseum

Portland 1 0 3 0 – 4
Connecticut 0 3 1 0 – 5

1st Period-1, Portland, Miele 13 (Beaudoin, Ross), 5:40. Penalties-Hextall Por (tripping), 14:39; Brodeur Por (unsportsmanlike conduct), 19:50; Audy-Marchessault Ct (unsportsmanlike conduct), 19:50.

2nd Period-2, Connecticut, Grant 9 (Tessier), 0:58. 3, Connecticut, Audy-Marchessault 21 (Grant), 1:56. 4, Connecticut, Grant 10 (Tessier), 14:59. Penalties-Eckford Por (holding the stick), 2:56; Hextall Por (unsportsmanlike conduct), 4:24; Redden Ct (unsportsmanlike conduct), 4:24; Valentenko Ct (hooking), 5:43; Miele Por (delay of game), 10:09; Vernace Ct (high-sticking), 17:20.

3rd Period-5, Portland, Werek 6 (Bolduc, Duncan), 5:13. 6, Portland, Rome 8 (Eckford, Ross), 7:40 (PP). 7, Portland, Werek 7 (Duncan), 14:06. 8, Connecticut, Audy-Marchessault 22 (Grant, Bell), 17:55. Penalties-Deveaux Ct (tripping), 6:27; Werek Por (slashing), 9:24.

OT Period– No Scoring.Penalties-No Penalties

Shootout – Portland 0 (Miele NG, Beaudoin NG, Sterling NG, Rundblad NG), Connecticut 2 (Bell G, Wellman G, Newbury NG, Audy-Marchessault NG).
Shots on Goal-Portland 12-10-12-6-0-40. Connecticut 15-16-9-1-1-42.
Power Play Opportunities-Portland 1 / 3; Connecticut 0 / 4.
Goalies-Portland, Mannino 6-7-1 (41 shots-37 saves). Connecticut, Talbot 12-12-0 (40 shots-36 saves).
A-3,457
Referees-Jarrod Ragusin (54).
Linesmen-Brent Colby (7), Mike Baker (11).

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