BRIDGEPORT, CT - The Bridgeport Sound Tigers (37-20-5-2), proud AHL affiliate of the New York Islanders, began a season-long eight-game homestand with a 4-0 victory against the Springfield Thunderbirds (27-26-7-5) on Sunday, their first game back at Webster Bank Arena since Feb. 24.
Jeremy Smith (19-10-3) stole the show with 29 saves to earn his first shutout with Bridgeport, and his first overall since Mar. 26, 2016 (with Providence). He also added an assist on the final tally. Offensively, the Sound Tigers received even-strength goals from Chris Casto and Jeff Kubiak, while Chris Bourque and John Stevens iced the game with a pair of empty-net markers in the final three minutes. Kubiak finished with a game-high two goals (one goal, one assist).
It was Bridgeport’s 11th straight win on a Sunday and its 21st in 29 games at Webster Bank Arena this season. The Sound Tigers continue to lead the AHL in winning percentage at home (77.6%),
In addition, the Sound Tigers magic number to clinch a playoff berth dropped to 15 following their win and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s loss to Toronto earlier in the day.
After killing an early penalty, the Sound Tigers found the back of the net at 6:38 of the first period to take a 1-0 lead. Chris Casto was the beneficiary as he pounced on Jeff Kubiak’s faceoff win and fired a shot from the right point that immediately hit a skate and rainbowed into the back of the net. The deflected puck sailed over Chris Driedger’s blocker for the weird goal - Casto’s fourth of the season. The sixth-year defenseman ended the contest with a game-high seven shots and a plus-three rating.
The Sound Tigers didn’t look back and controlled play in the offensive zone for the majority of the first period, ultimately outshooting the Thunderbirds 14-9 in the frame.
A more evenly-matched second was played at high pace, but went without any scoring. Although both teams had substantial opportunities, the period was reserved for a duel between the two netminders.
Driediger made a pair of glove saves from the top of the left circle, first denying Mitch Vande Sompel’s one-timer at 3:04, then minutes later, flashed leather on Bourque’s quick snapshot from nearly the same location. On the other side, Smith kept his team ahead by one in the form of a sharp kick save against Blaine Byron’s high-tip on a Bridgeport penalty kill at 13:00.
Kubiak made it 2-0 just 1:15 into the third period with his second point of the night and seventh goal of the season. Tanner Fritz snapped a low shot from just below the blue line that caught the shaft of Kubiak’s stick and deflected home. With a secondary assist on the game’s first marker, Kubiak registered his second multi-point game in his last seven outings.
Bourque and Stevens polished the game off with a pair of empty-net goals in the contest’s final three minutes to solidify a 4-0 Sound Tigers win. Bourque’s goal was his 250th in the AHL, while Stevens’ tally occurred on a perfectly-executed bank shot from beyond his own blue line.
Bridgeport finished the game 0-for-3 on the power play and a perfect 4-for-4 on the penalty kill, while also outshooting Springfield 33-29. Driedger (12-9-1) made 29 saves on 31 shots in the loss.