ELIMINATED

By Bruce Berlet

HARTFORD, CT. – Penalties were the Connecticut Whale’s Achilles heel all season, and a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty early in the second period proved their demise Saturday night.

After taking a two-goal lead during a dominating first 20 minutes, the penalty 33 seconds into the second led to a four-goal period for the Portland Pirates and a 6-4 victory before 4,514 at the XL Center on Saturday night that ended the Atlantic Division semifinal in six games.

It was the first time in the series that the home team lost as the Pirates ended a six-game road losing streak in the playoffs since winning their postseason opener at Providence in 2009.

Meanwhile, the Whale failed to get through the first round for the first time since beating Manchester in seven games in 2006. They then lost to Portland, Providence, Portland and Worcester before missing the playoffs for the first time in their 14-year history in 2010. Former Hartford Whalers right wing and captain Kevin Dineen, whose retired No. 11 hangs from the XL Center rafters, led the Pirates to an ouster of the Hartford Wolf Pack/Whale for the third time.

“You’re not supposed to do that to me in this building,” former Hartford Whalers owner and managing general partner Howard Baldwin, president and CEO of Whalers Sports and Entertainment that runs the business operations of the Whale, said to Dineen as he shook his hand outside the Pirates locker room.

The Wolf Pack/Whale is now 12-12 when facing elimination and has lost its last five in that situation, a skid that began against Portland in Game 6 of the 2006 Atlantic Division finals.

And this one can be traced to that ill-timed penalty early in the second period that set up Mark Parrish’s power-play goal, the first of three goals in a 7:25 span.

“My power play hasn’t been the most confident bunch, but I think they had some very good looks and good composure with the puck but they weren’t scoring,” Dineen said. “That goal (by Parrish) made a big difference for us and fed into our even-strength game.

“I know we’ve had some success here, but this place has been good to me in a lot of different ways. The problem is you know you’re going to come here and have your hands full. There are guys on that team that I really like. I hate ’em, but I really like them as players. They’ve got some good character, and they wear you down through attrition and pound you pretty hard, which is always frustrating as a coach. But I think my skill set really rose to the occasion.”

Dineen got no argument from anyone on the Whale side, especially as far as penalties. After going 0-for-25 on the power play over three games, the Pirates were 3-for-9 the last two games and 1-for-5 Saturday night, with the one being the game changer.

“On any play, there’s obviously more than one mistake, but I thought we could have got that puck deep and it would have been a non-issue,” Gernander said. “But we tried to force a pass, it deflected to the bench and we had a guy who was jumping early. It was a pretty good momentum turner when you’re up 2-0 and it goes to 2-1. … Penalties had been addressed. There were points and times through tonight’s game and throughout the series where we played really good, but there are no small mistakes. The two teams are evenly matched, and when the margin for error is that slim, you can’t afford to make any kinds of mistakes. I thought some of our mistakes were a little bigger than they were in earlier games, and a lot of times that’s what it comes down to.”

Right wing Dale Weise, back after missing nearly two games, scored the Whale’s second power-play goal with 1:18 left in the first period for a 2-0 lead before the dam broke early in the second.

“Penalties has been the story all season,” said Weise, alluding to the Whale being the second-most penalized team in the AHL. “Untimely penalties were the difference in the series. That’s the only way they gained momentum. And the power play was about the only way they scored in the first game (twice in a 3-2 win). We knew that, but unfortunately we just didn’t change.

“It’s frustrating to come out and have such a good start like we did and get a 2-0 lead. We obviously were feeling pretty good after the first period. Then they come out and get the power-play goal, and that kind of swung things. Obviously it’s very disappointing to lose that way. You can rest your hat if you go out and play five-on-five and just get beat by a better team, but I don’t think we did that in this series. I don’t think that’s a better team over there. I just think we hurt ourselves.”

But the Pirates advanced to the Atlantic Division finals against Binghamton, a 6-5 overtime winner over Manchester on Saturday night as Ryan Potulny scored 3:07 into sudden death in the first Game 7 at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H. The Senators had stayed alive Friday night when rookie goalie Robin Lehner stopped Bud Holloway’s series-clinching penalty shot bid at 4:55 of overtime before defenseman Geoff Kinrade scored on a wraparound at 10:01 of the second overtime for a 2-1 victory. The Senators won all four games in sudden death.

The Whale came out as well as they have in the series and would have had a lead only 2:32 in except for David Leggio’s brilliant glove save off defenseman Tomas Kundratek’s rush down the slot. But the Whale got the game’s first five shots and took a 1-0 lead on the power play when Wade Redden passed to the left circle to Jeremy Williams, whose laser beat Leggio high to the stick side at 3:45 for his first goal of the series after having a team-high 32 in the regular season.

The Pirates then seemed to find their skating legs, got six of the next seven shots and severely tested Dov Grumet-Morris (28 saves), who made a sprawling stop on Mark Parrish’s jam bid at 8:25 after Paul Byron’s rebound hit the post at 6:32.

The Whale didn’t allow a shot over the final 10:16 of the period and nearly made it 2-0 twice, but Leggio came out to deny Stu Bickel breaking in off the right point with 8:32 left and Chad Kolarik hit the post with 2:33 to go.

The Whale persevered, and Redden passed to the left circle to Weise, whose shot from the left circle beat Leggio with 1:18 left as he was screened by Brodie Dupont.

But the too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty completely turned the momentum.

“The first shift we made a couple of turnovers and then the third one ended up costing us the too many men on the ice,” said Redden, who had three assists and was named the game’s No. 3 star for the second straight game. “Everyone was kind of crossed up, and then they score. That was the big point of the game for sure. It snowballed, but it’s something we’ve kind of battled all year long, bad penalties and poor decision making in key times of the game. That ultimately was the difference in a lot of the games that we lost in the playoffs.

“They made some bounces, but we gave them a lot, too, and that’s the frustrating part.”

The Pirates got to 2-1 when Mark Mancari, again back from the parent Buffalo Sabres, found Byron in the left circle for a laser through at screen at 2:00.

The Pirates got even as defenseman Dennis Persson, also back from the Sabres and plus-5 in the game, took a shot from the left point that deflected off Colin Stuart to Mark Parrish for an easy finish at 4:05.

Then after Grumet-Morris stopped Dennis McCauley off left wing at 8:19, Mancari scored off a scramble at 9:27 after AHL Rookie of the Year Luke Adam won a faceoff from John Mitchell and blocked a clearing attempt by Carl Hagelin.

Off the ensuing faceoff, Leggio came out to deny Dupont breaking in off left wing, but the Whale tied it at 10:47 off two fortuitous bounces. Kolarik took a shot from the right circle that ricocheted into the high slot to Kundratek, whose 40-foot shot deflected off the shin pad of the Hagelin for his first pro goal.

Leggio somehow stopped Kris Newbury’s one-timer in front during a power play with 4:40 left, and the Pirates took the lead for good off a 3-on-2 as Parrish dropped a pass to a trailing Alex Biega, and the former Salisbury School standout beat Grumet-Morris to the stick side from 30 feet in the slot with 2:52 left.

Leggio kept the Pirates in front early in the third period when he got his right pad on Weise’s backhander at 4:55 and made a glove save on Redden during a Whale power play at 6:06.

The Pirates got the crushing fifth goal when Whale defensemen Bickel and Kundratek collided at the blueline, allowing Parrish and Byron to break in 2-on-none, with Byron easily scoring his second of the game and series with 9:04 left.

Carl Tropp then made it 6-3 when he stole the puck from Valentenko and beat Grumet-Morris from the left circle with 5:46 to go. Kolarik’s deflection of Redden’s shot on a power play with 16.1 seconds left and Grumet-Morris pulled for a sixth attacker made the final more respectable.

“Both teams scored in-tight goals all series,” Grumet-Morris said. “Goalies are pretty good nowadays, so you have to kind of create traffic tips. For the most part tonight, the goals were either net-front presence, tips and rebounds, and unfortunately they were better at that tonight.

“Certainly Mancari and Parrish played very well. They came up with points when they needed them. They put pucks on net. They went to the net. They did the things that you need to do in the playoffs to win. We had some very good performances as well. Unfortunately we were not a better team for four games.”

WEISE IN, ZUCCARELLO OUT FOR WHALE

The Whale regained Weise, but wing Mats Zuccarello was sidelined for the season after a bizarre one-in-a-million bit of bad luck in Game 5 in Portland. As “The Norwegian Hobbit” chased a puck along the boards late in the first period, two fingers on his left hand got caught in the photographer’s camera hole in the plexiglass, resulting in a broken hand that will sideline him 4-to-6 weeks, ending his first season in North America. He also will miss playing for Norway in the World Championships April 29 to May 15 in Bratislava and Kosice, Slovakia.

“I was going with speed and tried to brace myself on the glass and my fingers went in the hole (about four inches wide),” a disheartened/philosophical Zuccarello said while wearing a cast on his left hand and lower part of his arm. “I couldn’t believe it happened, but I knew something was wrong right away. But that’s hockey. Things happen.”

Zuccarello, sent down by the Rangers last Monday after being a healthy scratch in two straight Stanley Cup games, said he will see a specialist on Monday to determine if he will need surgery.

Weise returned after missing Game 5 because of the aftereffects of being crosschecked into the boards by Adam five minutes into the Whale’s 3-1 victory in Game 4 on Tuesday night. A penalty wasn’t called, but Weise didn’t return that game and sat out Thursday night. He skated alongside Mitchell and Grachev, and Ryan Garlock replaced Francis Lemieux and centered Tommy Grant and Derek Couture.

Besides Zuccarello and Lemieux, the Whale scratched goalie Jason Missiaen, defensemen Jyri Niemi, Dylan McIlrath and injured Michael Del Zotto and forwards Kale Kerbashian, Shayne Wiebe, Andrew Yogan and injured Devin DiDiomete, Todd White and Justin Soryal.

DiDiomete told Mitch Beck of Howlings.net that he had successful surgery on his right hip on Monday, but it wasn’t as severe as the three surgeries he had on his left hip on May 7. He missed the start of the season and played in pain much of the way until he couldn’t tolerate it any longer. He had six goals, four assists and a team-high 303 penalty minutes in 63 games before shutting it down after a game against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on March 26. DiDiomete, a restricted free agent at the end of the season, told Beck that he will be ready for training camp.

White is also done for the season after not playing since Jan. 28, when he sustained a concussion when he ran into Dupont during a game against the Monarchs. White had three goals and two assists in only nine games after clearing waivers and being assigned to the Whale on Dec. 29.

… The Pirates were without center/captain Matt Ellis, called up by the Sabres to replace wing Jason Pominville, who sustained a severe cut on his left leg in a collision with Philadelphia Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk with 3:09 left in the first period of Game 5 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal Friday night. As van Riemsdyk spun off the check, his skate came up and grazed Pominville just below the left calf. Pominville didn’t return and left the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on crutches, wearing a boot on that leg that went from his foot to his calf. On Saturday, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said his best two-way forward wouldn’t play in Game 6 on Sunday afternoon. Ruff said forward Derek Roy (torn quadriceps) is close to returning, but Ellis was recalled to fill a possible void.

Meanwhile, Mancari and Persson completed another Portland-to-Buffalo-to-Hartford shuttle — with a pit stop in Philadelphia — to play in Game 6. They were in Philadelphia on Friday night to see former teammate Tyler Ennis score at 5:32 of overtime to give the Sabres a 4-3 victory over the Flyers and a 3-2 lead in their quarterfinal, then arose at 4:45 a.m. for a flight to Hartford. Mancari had a goal and two assists in the Pirates’ 5-4 victory in Game 5, only his second start in the series because of all the call-ups to the Sabres.

Igor Gongalsky and Maxime Legault replaced Ellis and Brian Roloff, who set up Derek Whitmore’s overtime winner in Game 2. The Pirates also scratched defensemen T.J. Brennan, Jeff Dimmen and Drew Schiestel and forwards Joe Whitney, Shawn Szydlowski and Jacob Lagace.

PENGUINS COMPLETE COMEBACK; DAWES LEADS BULLDOGS

Steve Wagner scored a hat trick as the regular season champion Wilkes-Barre/Scranton beat the Norfolk Admirals 6-3 to complete an impressive turnaround in their East Division semifinal.

The Penguins became only the third team in the AHL’s 75-year history to win four in a row after losing the first two at home. Hershey accomplished that in the finals last year against the Texas Stars to win their second straight title.

On Friday night, rookie Nick Petersen scored two power-play goals in the first period, his first in the playoffs, as Wilkes-Barre/Scranton won 2-1 to complete a three-game sweep in Norfolk.

In other Friday night action:

… Former Wolf Pack wing Nigel Dawes scored a power-play goal and assisted on Aaron Palushaj’s tally as the Bulldogs beat Oklahoma City 2-0 Friday night to take a 3-1 lead in their North Division semifinal. Palushaj, who didn’t play in Game 4 on Wednesday, got the winner in the first period and also assisted on Dawes’ goal in the second period. Drew MacIntyre rebounded from a 5-2 loss in Game 4 to post a 20-save shutout, with 17 of them coming in the last two periods. The Bulldogs have two chances to win the series at home on Sunday afternoon or Monday night. They were in the same position in last year’s conference finals but lost both games to the Texas Stars.

… The Charlotte Checkers scored the last five goals, including four in the third period, to rally for a 5-3 victory over the Hershey Bears and a 3-2 lead in their East Division semifinal. Former Bear Oskar Osala tied it, Nick Dodge got the winner and Drayson Bowman scored an empty-net goal to clinch it. Between the goals by Dodge and Bowman, the Checkers, the former ECHL affiliate of the Whale, killed a lengthy 5-on-3 power play for Hershey. The two-time defending champion Bears, who were 0-for-7 on the power play and are 1-for-24 in the series, need to win both of the remaining games at home Sunday afternoon and Monday night to have a shot at a three-peat.

… Ryan Thang’s goal at 16:29 of overtime gave the Milwaukee Admirals a 2-1 road victory over the Stars and a 3-2 lead in their West Division semifinal. They can advance with a victory at home on Monday night or Tuesday night. Combined with Hershey’s loss to Charlotte, each of the 2010 Calder Cup finalists face 3-2 series deficits in the first round this year.

… Two-time All-Star Sergei Shirokov snapped a tie at 6:35 of the third period and all-rookie goalie Eddie Lack made 26 saves for his first pro shutout as the Manitoba Moose beat visiting Lake Erie 2-0 to stay alive in their North Division series. The Barons have two chances to advance at home on Sunday afternoon and Tuesday night.

CAPITALS OUST RANGERS; LIGHTNING ALIVE

Alex Ovechkin scored the winner and assisted on Mike Green’s power-play goal to back the 26-save performance of rookie Michal Neuvirth as the Washington Capitals beat the New York Rangers 3-1 Saturday to win their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series four games to one.

Ovechkin set up Green’s goal 5:59 into the game and then got the winner when he raced around Staal and put a backhander past Henrik Lundqvist (24 saves) at 7:04 of the second period. Former Pirates standout Alexander Semin capped the Caps’ scoring with 3:37 left in the game.

Wojtek Wolski ruined Neuvirth’s shutout bid with 31.5 seconds to go after the Rangers pulled Lundqvist for a sixth attacker. But Neuvirth was rightfully named the game’s No. 1 after allowing only two goals in three home games in the series.

With the Rangers eliminated, defenseman Ryan McDonagh and goalie Chad Johnson became eligible to join the Whale because they and Zuccarello were on the team’s Clear Day list. But that won’t happen.

The Capitals will play the winner of the Tampa Bay-Pittsburgh series. Tampa Bay scored five goals in a 10-minute span in the second period in an 8-2 romp that cut the Penguins’ lead to 3-2 and forced a Game 6 in Florida on Monday night. Steven Stamkos, nearly invisible for four games amid speculation that he was injured, had two goals and an assist and Simon Gagne also scored twice as the Lightning outscored the Penguins 13-3 in the last two games in Pittsburgh

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One response to “ELIMINATED

  1. Pingback: GAME SIX–NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON’T |

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