BRIDGEPORT, CT - Steve Bernier scored his first career hat trick on Sunday to lift the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (12-6-2-1), proud AHL affiliate of the New York Islanders, to a 4-3 win against the Springfield Thunderbirds (10-6-0-2) at Webster Bank Arena.
The veteran of 637 NHL games, who was playing his 200th AHL game on Sunday, completed his three-goal performance within the first six minutes of the second period. It was Bridgeport’s first hat trick since Travis St. Denis netted three goals on Mar. 15, 2018 against Rochester.
Sebastian Aho also found the back of the cage with the eventual game-winner and added two assists for a three-point performance. Otto Koivula and Mike Sislo chipped in two assists each, helping the Sound Tigers to their 10th straight home game with at least one point (8-0-1-1).
The Sound Tigers finished the contest 3-for-7 on the power play and 7-for-9 on the penalty kill in a game that was overwhelmed at times by minor penalties.
The Thunderbirds struck first just 2:35 into the game when Jake Horton scored his fourth goal of the season. Bobby Farnham started the play with a backhand shot towards Christopher Gibson, who was not able to come up with the puck. Horton stuck with it and jammed home the even-strength tally to make it 1-0.
The next three goals came on the power play, as penalties were consistent throughout the afternoon. Nearly two minutes later, at the 4:29 mark, the Sound Tigers pulled even with Bernier’s first goal of the day. Bridgeport took advantage of Julian Melchiori’s hooking penalty when Chris Bourque skated across the Thunderbirds’ blue line and passed the puck to Aho. He fired a wrist shot towards the net that Sam Montembeault deflected, but it bounced off of his left pad and Bernier converted the rebound for his eighth goal of the year.
Springfield took the lead right back following an interference penalty to St. Denis later in the first. At 13:50 of the opening frame, the T-Birds capitalized on a sequence of tic-tac-toe passes in Bridgeport’s zone. Ludwig Bystrom led the charge with a pass to Henrik Borgstrom on the left side of the net, who directed it to Hawryluk for a back-door tap-in - his third goal of the season.
The Sound Tigers responded for a second time and tied the game in the final minute of the period, courtesy of Bernier’s second goal. Bridgeport took advantage of another power-play opportunity when Koivula hammered a slap shot above the slot that Montembeault turned back with his chest. However, the T-Birds’ netminder had difficulty coming up with another clean save and Bernier backhanded home the loose change.
Bernier’s success (and fortunate bounces) continued early in the second period when he celebrated his first career hat trick in his 14th professional season. This time at even strength, Aho entered the Thunderbirds’ zone and dished it off to Scott Eansor, who found Bernier calling for the puck near the bottom of the left circle. Bernier missed the mark and guided a one-time shot wide left, but it banked off the glass, deflected off of Montembeault’s back and rattled into the cage at the 5:09 mark. The hat trick resulted in his team-leading 10th goal of the season to give the Sound Tigers a 3-2 lead.
Bridgeport extended its advantage to 4-2 with another power-play tally later in the middle frame. Following a holding penalty assessed to Paul Thompson, Bourque directed a pass Aho on the right side, where the defenseman buried a one-time slap shot to record his first goal of the season. It came at 12:32 of the second period.
Springfield got back to within one when Joel Lowry scored his fifth goal of the season at 4:19 of the third. Harry Zolnierczyk was credited with his 14th assist when he dropped the puck to MacDonald, who was right behind him on the left side. MacDonald fired a one-timer that Gibson knocked down, but Lowry buried the rebound for the 4-3 final.
Despite the Thunderbirds’ offensive zone pressure in the final two minutes, Gibson made a couple of key saves to keep the Sound Tigers ahead. It was his sixth straight game with at least one point (4-0-2).
Next Time Out: The Sound Tigers face the Springfield Thunderbirds for the second time in as many days with a 7:05 p.m. rematch at MassMutual Center this Wednesday, Nov. 28. Fans can follow all of the live action via the Sound Tigers Radio Network and AHLTV, beginning with the pre-game show at 6:45 p.m.