BRIDGEPORT, CT - The Bridgeport Sound Tigers (9-5-1-0), proud AHL affiliate of the New York Islanders, stayed hot at Webster Bank Arena on Sunday, winning their fifth straight game and seventh in a row at home with a 4-2 victory against the first-place Charlotte Checkers (11-3-0-0).
Kieffer Bellows and Otto Koivula both stayed hot with first-period goals, and Connor Jones netted the game-winner early in the final frame, while Christopher Gibson (5-3-0) was stellar in net with 28 saves on 30 shots. Mike Sislo also scored an empty-netter for his fifth of the year and Ryan Bourque collected two assists.
Andrew Poturalski and Janne Kuokkanen scored Charlotte’s only two goals, while Callum Booth (1-1-0) made 17 saves in his second start of the season.
With the victory, the Sound Tigers are now just three points behind Charlotte for first place in the Atlantic Division.
Both teams showcased their fast pace of play in the opening minutes and traded several scoring chances, but Gibson and Booth stood their respective ground early on.
The Sound Tigers struck first for the eighth time this season at 11:45 of the initial frame when Bellows scored for the fourth straight game. Sebastian Aho climbed off the bench and charged onto a loose puck before he faked a slap shot on the left wing, walked around a Checker, and centered a pass to Bellows in the slot. There, the rookie forward settled the puck and fired a wrist shot off the post and in, blocker side, for his sixth of the season. He has five goals in the last four games.
Bridgeport extended its lead to 2-0 courtesy of Koivula’s skillful individual effort less than five minutes later. After Bourque forced the puck into the offensive zone, Koivula won a battle at the blue line, made a slick toe drag around Trevor Carrick, and backhanded his shot over the blocker of Booth at 16:32. Koivula is now on a four-game point streak and has mustered six points (three goals, three assists) during that span.
The Checkers responded in the second period with a pair of tallies to draw the score even heading into the third. Just as a penalty expired in the first five minutes, Poturalski tried to find Dennis Robertson on a stretch pass through center, but his feed was off the mark and it slide deep into Bridgeport’s zone. Gibson came out to play it, but mishandled the puck behind his own net and Robertson threw the puck on target. While the initial attempt from behind the net hit Gibson’s pad, the puck fell onto Poturalski’s stick and just barely slid across the goal line at 4:53.
Charlotte tied the game at 17:55 of the second period during a 4-on-4 sequence after coinciding roughing penalties were called to Mitch Vande Sompel and Poturalski. In the Checkers’ zone, Michael Dal Colle riffled a shot that was stopped by Booth’s pad and the puck bounced out to Martin Necas, who sprung Kuokkanen for a breakaway. With time and space, he beat Gibson with a quick snapshot through his five-hole for his team-leading seventh goal of the season.
The Sound Tigers came out of the gates flying in the third period and Jones scored his third goal of the season at 1:42, which stood as the game-winner. Josh Ho-Sang corralled the puck off the right half wall and made a diagonal cross-ice feed to Jones below the left hash marks, where he made a slick forehand-to-backhand deke and directed the puck through Booth’s five-hole.
Ho-Sang’s assist gives him 11 points over his last six games (one goal, 10 assists) and puts him in sole possession of the team-lead with 15 points (one goal, 14 assists) this season. He also now leads all AHL forwards with 14 assists on the season, just one assist behind the league-lead (Lawrence Pilut, Rochester).
Gibson was a perfect 10-for-10 in the final period of play. His best of the frame came against Necas, when Gibson flashed his glove on a partial 2-on-0 break with just over six minutes to play.
Despite Charlotte’s offensive zone pressure in the final two minutes, Sislo put the nail in the coffin when he potted his fifth goal of the season into the empty net. Bourque and Jeff Kubiak earned assists on the goal to make it 4-2.
Although the Sound Tigers were unable to score on the power play, they finished the night a perfect 5-for-5 on the penalty kill.
Next Time Out: The Sound Tigers return to action this Wednesday and open a three-game road trip with an 11 a.m. puck drop against the Hartford Wolf Pack at the XL Center. Fans can follow all of the live action via AHLTV and the Sound Tigers Radio Network, beginning with the pre-game show at 10:45 a.m.