WILKES-BARRE, PA - Mitch Vande Sompel scored twice and veterans Steve Bernier and Ben Holmstrom also found the back of the net as the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (36-27-5-3), proud AHL affiliate of the New York Islanders, hit the 80-point plateau with a 4-3 win against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (41-22-6-2) at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza on Friday.
Josh Ho-Sang and Ryan Bourque added two assists each, and Christopher Gibson (19-11-3) made 25 saves, to aid in Bridgeport’s second victory against the Penguins in 13 days. With the win, the Sound Tigers climbed to within eight points of the Charlotte Checkers for the Atlantic Division’s final playoff with five games left. Charlotte’s “magic number” to clinch remains at two.
Both teams converted on early power-play opportunities to push a 1-1 deadlock past the 10-minute mark. Penguins captain Tom Kostopoulos, who announced Wednesday that his 19-year pro career will come to a close at the end of the season, opened the scoring at 4:48 when he redirected his fifth goal of the season past Gibson’s glove. Following a goaltender interference penalty against Bernier, Daniel Sprong set up at the top of the left circle and hammered a shot that Kostopoulos deflected to make it 1-0. Former Sound Tiger Kevin Czuczman also collected an assist, while Sprong’s helper was the first of three points on the night (one goal, two assists).
For Gibson, it was the first tally he’d allowed in the AHL since Feb. 11 against the Syracuse Crunch, breaking a shutout streak of more than 140 minutes.
Less than two minutes later, Vande Sompel answered with his own power-play goal following a boarding penalty against Jean-Sebastian Dea. Bourque and Ho-Sang worked the puck from right-to-left across the parameter before Vande Sompel snapped a shot from the top of the circle that filtered between the near post and Tristan Jarry’s blocker at 6:43.
Bernier gave the Sound Tigers their first lead of the night when he deposited his 19th goal of the season at 11:45 of the first. Bourque carried the puck down the right wing and slammed on the breaks before guiding a pass to Stevens down low. The rookie forward settled the puck and skated behind the net, where he noticed an open lane and backhanded a feed to the slot for Bernier’s finish.
Vande Sompel netted his second of the night, and seventh goal of the season, at 5:48 of the middle frame to push Bridgeport’s lead to 3-1. Ho-Sang danced across the blue line and sent a saucer pass to Vande Sompel on the left wing, where he moved through the circle and beat Jarry’s blocker with a gifted wrist shot. Kyle Burroughs also recorded an assist as Vande Sompel scored two goals in a game for the first time in his pro career.
Sprong kept the Penguins close nearly two minutes later when he notched his team-leading 29th goal of the season, which leads all AHL rookies. The tally came directly after Teddy Blueger’s faceoff win in the right circle as the puck slid to Sprong in the slot and he swept home a one-timer at 7:50.
Holmstrom regained Bridgeport’s two-goal advantage at 6:23 of the third period when he converted on a terrific centering feed from Kyle Schempp. The puck was knocked loose in the neutral zone where Schempp gathered it and raced down the left wing before forcing a pass to the crease. Holmstrom nudged it home for his 11th goal of the season and his 20th point.
Blueger cut the deficit to one yet again with his 20th goal of the season at 15:14 of the third period. With Casey Bailey in the box for hooking, Sprong sent another slap shot towards the net from the left wing and Blueger deflected it past Gibson to make it 4-3.
The Penguins pulled Jarry in the final two minutes and enjoyed a brief 6-on-4 attack after Connor Jones was called for slashing in the final 10 seconds, but couldn’t level the score the Sound Tigers buckled down.
The Sound Tigers finished the game 1-for-4 on the power play and 3-for-5 on the penalty kill, while Jarry made 18 saves for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The Penguins outshot Bridgeport 28-22.
Next Time Out: The Sound Tigers return to Webster Bank Arena tomorrow night with a 7 p.m. matchup against the Providence Bruins. It will mark the 12th and final meeting between the Atlantic Division rivals. Fans can follow all of the live action on the Sound Tigers Radio Network and AHL Live, beginning with the pre-game show at 6:45 p.m., and great seats are still on sale!