SOUND TIGERS Sound Tigers pick up overtime win at Hartford
HARTFORD — Three games in three nights is a staple of any AHL season, but to Bridgeport Sound Tigers coach Brent Thompson, the one his team just completed might be the hardest one he saw in a long time.
And they won all three games, capping their weekend with a 3-2 overtime win Saturday night over the Hartford Wolf Pack at the XL Center.
The degrees of difficulty added up on the Sound Tigers: They were off for four days for Christmas. They returned to beat Hartford 3-2 at home Thursday. Springfield had Thursday off, but Bridgeport beat the Thunderbirds 4-3 Friday night to start a six-game road trip.
And Hartford had Friday off, but Bridgeport gutted out this last win on Travis St. Denis’ breakaway goal with 33.8 seconds left in overtime.
“You come off a break where you don’t get to practice, you’ve got a three-in-three when other teams haven’t played three-in-three and they’ve got rest,” Thompson said. “I thought it showed a lot of character in our hockey team. It all falls back to the work ethic.”
When the fatigue turned into inevitable mistakes, Jeremy Smith was there in net, making 31 saves to win his fourth game in a row and his sixth out of seven.
“He’s playing so well lately. He’s a big guy for us,” said Otto Koivula, who scored Bridgeport’s second goal and sent St. Denis in alone in overtime.
Already without Jeff Kubiak, who’s termed week-to-week after being injured Thursday, and Steve Bernier, day-to-day with a lower-body ailment, the Sound Tigers lost two more players on Saturday.
The parent New York Islanders called up Michael Dal Colle, the Sound Tigers’ leading scorer with 28 points. And the AHL suspended Connor Jones for two games for a hit on Cole Schneider late in Thursday’s game, which it deemed an illegal check to the head.
Bridgeport called up winger Matt Gaudreau from Worcester (ECHL) to make his AHL season debut, and it played defenseman Yannick Rathgeb on right wing.
“Everyone contributed through the course of this weekend, and that’s what I’m so happy about,” Thompson said. “Guys that didn’t play came in and played well. Guys that played backed it up with another consistent effort.”
Hartford had its three leading scorers suspended Saturday, including Schneider, for instigating an altercation with Jones after the hit, and Steven Fogarty, whose bump knocked Kubiak off-balance and into the boards. The Wolf Pack played seven defensemen when Shawn O’Donnell was a late scratch.
Kieffer Bellows gave Bridgeport a lead 94 seconds into the game off a pass from Ryan Bourque. It lasted into the third period before a Chris Bigras goal.
Chris Bourque broke up a Hartford play and set up a two-on-one that Koivula put away; Bigras set up Bobby Butler for the tying goal 17 seconds later, with St. Denis sent off for a misconduct, apparently saying something to an official.
So he was fresh in overtime: Koivula knocked the puck away from Matt Beleskey in the defensive end and sent St. Denis out with a deft backhand pass.
“I kind of had a partial breakaway about two minutes before that, and (Hartford goalie Dustin Tokarski) made a nice pokecheck,” St. Denis said. “Coming down the next time, I knew I was going to shoot, wasn’t going to deke again. I tried to lift my head and look for an open spot, and luckily it went in.”
He found it high-blocker for his fourth career overtime goal. Only Jeff Hamilton has more as a Sound Tiger, six.
“(St. Denis) said to me before the game, if you want apples (assists), you’ve got to pass me the puck,” Koivula said with a smile. “It worked out pretty well.”
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SOUND TIGERS 3, WOLF PACK 2 (OT)
Bridgeport1 0 1 1—3
Hartford0 0 2 0—2
First Period — 1, Bridgeport, Bellows 9 (R.Bourque, Hitchcock), 1:34. Penalties — Lettieri, Hfd (tripping), 5:25; St. Denis, Bpt (hooking), 13:23.
Second Period — No scoring. Penalties — Hajek, Hfd (tripping), 1:49; Leedahl, Hfd (tripping), 9:03; Lettieri, Hfd (tripping), 19:36.
Third Period — 2, Hartford, Bigras 3 (Fontaine, Andersson), 1:41. 3, Bridgeport, Koivula 9 (St. Denis, C.Bourque), 9:28. 4, Hartford, Butler 6 (Bigras, O’Gara), 9:45. Penalties — Helgeson, Bpt (cross-checking), 6:10; St. Denis, Bpt, misconduct, 9:28.
Overtime — 5, Bridgeport, St. Denis 9 (Koivula), 4:26. Penalties — None.
Shots on goal — Bridgeport 6-12-8-6—32. Hartford 13-6-12-2—33.
Power play opportunities — Bridgeport 0 of 4, Hartford 0 of 2.
Goaltenders — Bridgeport, Smith 11-5-1 (33 shots-31 saves). Hartford, Tokarski 7-5-1 (32-29).
Attendance — 4,805. Referees — Duco, Kelly. Linesmen — Colby, Galvin.