BRIDGEPORT, CT - Kieffer Bellows’ second goal of the night came nearly 14 minutes into double overtime on Friday, and propelled the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, proud AHL affiliate of the New York Islanders, to a 3-2 victory in Game 1 of the Atlantic Division Semifinals against the Hershey Bears at Webster Bank Arena.
The 20-year-old rookie’s multi-goal performance came in his professional playoff debut and guided Bridgeport to its first win in a postseason contest since 2010. Steve Bernier also beat Hershey’s Ilya Samsonov with the game-tying goal in the final three minutes of regulation in front of 4,381 electric fans.
Chris McCarthy and Jayson Megna each scored for the Bears, while Christopher Gibson made 29 saves on 31 shots. All three Sound Tigers’ goals came on the power play and Bridgeport now leads the best-of-five series 1-0 entering tomorrow’s Game 2.
Friday’s tilt took exactly four hours.
Bridgeport controlled the majority of the opening period and outshot the Bears 15-5, but both goaltenders were strong in the first 20 minutes. McCarthy broke the scoreless deadlock with the first tally of the series at 8:16 of the second. At even strength, Steve Whitney found McCarthy in the left circle and the latter ripped a shot past Gibson’s glove to make it 1-0. The tally was initially waved off and the officials huddled, and debated, if goalie interference was a factor, but the marker ultimately stood.
Less than five minutes later, Megna doubled Hershey’s lead with a shorthanded goal at 13:02. With Mike Sgarbossa in the box on a high-sticking double minor, Oliver Wahlstrom failed to hold the puck in the offensive zone when it jumped his blade and slid through center. Megna turned on the jets and beat Sebastian Aho in a race to the puck before depositing a forehand shot past Gibson’s glove to make it 2-0.
The Sound Tigers got one back at the 14:21 mark when Bellows potted his first goal of the night from the doorstep. On that same Sgarbossa penalty, Koivula settled Matt Lorito’s pass and muscled his way near the right post where he backhanded a centering feed to the crease. Bellows moved in and scored his first playoff goal to make it 2-1.
The contest remained in Hershey’s favor until the final three minutes of regulation, despite several golden chances for the Sound Tigers. In addition, the Bears had a handful of opportunities, including a 2-on-1 rush midway through the third that turned into a frightening situation. Former Sound Tigers captain Aaron Ness darted to the crease at full speed and was bumped from behind, which sent him crashing head-first into the end wall. He was removed from the ice with a stretcher and taken to an area hospital for further evaluation.
Bernier evened the score with a clutch, 5-on-3 power-play goal at the 17:52 mark when he jammed home a rebound in the crease following Sebastian Aho’s shot. Lorito also earned an assist, his second helper of the night.
The Sound Tigers outshot Hershey 11-5 in the first overtime and 6-3 in the second extra frame, until Bellows played hero with the thrilling winner. Sgarbossa was accessed a tripping penalty at 13:00 of the second overtime and on the ensuing advantage, Wahlstrom slipped a pass to Bellows above the left hash marks, where he turned and wristed home the deciding goal through Bernier’s screen. It was assisted by Wahlstrom and Chris Bourque at 13:36.
Bridgeport finished the game 3-for-8 on the power play and 3-for-3 on the penalty kill. The Sound Tigers outshot Hershey 52-31, while Samsonov made 49 saves in the Bears’ crease.