Hartford, CT - In their sixth of eight matchups for the 2012-2013 season, the Connecticut Whale skated to a 4-1 victory over the Atlantic division-leading Portland Pirates Friday night at the XL Center.
Led by two scores from young gun Christian Thomas, Connecticut shot early and often, and were stingy on the defensive side of the puck. With help from veteran blueliner Steve Eminger, who has 457 career NHL games under his belt, the Whale allowed just six shots in the first period; Cam Talbot would finish with 23 saves.
Portland backstop Chad Johnson, who signed with the Pirates’ NHL parent club, the Phoenix Coyotes, over the summer after playing 49 games with Whale last season, saw a lot of action early. After surrendering two goals in the first 20 minutes, he was replaced by Mike Lee, who had made only three AHL appearances in the season prior to Friday. Johnson retired with 12 saves.
In a chippy first period, the Portland offense was quiet. The Coyotes’ top affiliate couldn’t get the puck to Talbot on their first power play, when Chris Brown drew a hooking call on Kris Newbury.
The teams exchanged checks and chances near the 12-minute mark, and as Kelsey Tessier got hammered by Boris Valabik behind Johnson’s net, the New Brunswick-born Tessier found Thomas for his first of the night at 8:49. Mark Louis would sit for roughing on the same play.
After a successful penalty kill, Portland replied. Alexandre Bolduc found the rebound of a Michael Stone shot to net his 18th of the season at 11:40. Andy Miele earned the secondary assist on the game-tying goal.
Play got hairy late in the first, as a series of Portland penalties gave Connecticut sustained five-on-three time. The Pirates’ kill unit came up with another successful effort, but with 1:50 to play in the period, Newbury fought off Louis on the wall and fed Brandon Mashinter on the doorstep for an easy put away. Mashinter went on to say, “It was a good 60 minutes,” with a passing nod to Head Coach Ken Gernander’s mantra for the season. “Eminger is poised back there, (Chris) Kreider (returned to the Whale by the parent New York Rangers Friday afternoon) has great hands and he’s fast. Both those guys are NHL ready and it’s good to have them.”
The second period went by in the same fashion for just over 10 minutes. At 10:44 Louis got his stick in the midsection of a Whale forward for another hooking minor. Kreider sat for hooking moments later to negate the power play. Talbot came up with his 10th and 11th saves on Stone shooting from the circle, and the period went by without a score.
Opening the third, Lee came up with a sprawling save. Micheal Haley went off for boarding Valabik 51 seconds in. Connecticut killed off the man-down situation and Nick Palmieri had two great looks at the net, as Lee was stretched out on scrambles in front immediately after play returned to even strength.
Thomas struck again at 4:43 for his 12th of the season. Blake Parlett fed Sam Klassen and Klassen found Thomas in the neutral zone. Thomas walked in and let go an absolute bomb from the right circle to give the Whale a 3-1 edge. Thomas said after the game, “I’m feeling good, better than in the beginning of the season and things are just starting to click. We got a lot of shots and that’s something G (Gernander) always tells us before games.”
Gernander spoke highly of Thomas and the team as well, “The Thomas-Hales (Haley)-Tess (Tessier) line has been important to our success as of late. Thomas is more proactive, taking more initiative. Our younger kids are making strides, trades are giving us a new look, we have size and a different dynamic to the club. We’re meshing. One of our more complete games.”
Physicality stayed high in the third; Dylan McIlrath crushed Phil Lane in the defensive end but was called for charging at 8:57. All of nine seconds later, Klassen and Haley combined to feed Tessier. Breaking in alone, Tessier was, as he said after the game, “thinking five-hole the entire way,” and converted exactly that way for his season’s 11th.
With a handful of penalties and misconducts handed out after a scrum with 3:48 left, the Whale was able to shut down and finish off Portland, 4-1. Lee would finish with 24 saves on 26 shots faced in 40 minutes. Talbot got his 18th win of the season with 23 saves in the Whale net.
Portland Pirates 1 at Connecticut Whale 4
Friday, February 15, 2013 - XL Center Veterans Memorial Coliseum
Portland 1 0 0 - 1
Connecticut 2 0 2 - 4
1st Period-1, Connecticut, Thomas 11 (Tessier, Haley), 8:39. 2, Portland, Bolduc 18 (Stone, Miele), 11:40. 3, Connecticut, Mashinter 6 (Newbury, Vernace), 18:10. Penalties-Newbury Ct (hooking), 5:09; Valabik Por (roughing, roughing), 8:05; Mashinter Ct (roughing, roughing), 8:05; Louis Por (roughing), 8:39; Rechlicz Por (interference), 12:17; Stone Por (delay of game), 14:02; Bolduc Por (closing hand on puck), 14:46.
2nd Period- No Scoring. Penalties-Louis Por (hooking), 10:44; Kreider Ct (hooking), 12:11; Jean Ct (tripping), 15:22.
3rd Period-4, Connecticut, Thomas 12 (Klassen, Parlett), 4:43. 5, Connecticut, Tessier 11 (Haley, Klassen), 9:06 (SH). Penalties-Haley Ct (boarding), 0:51; McIlrath Ct (charging), 8:57; Shinnimin Por (goaltender interference), 11:27; Rechlicz Por (misconduct - unsportsmanlike conduct), 14:24; Goncharov Por (slashing), 14:47; Bolduc Por (slashing, misconduct), 16:12; Valabik Por (roughing, misconduct), 16:12; Haley Ct (roughing, misconduct), 16:12; Tessier Ct (hooking), 18:29.
Shots on Goal-Portland 6-9-9-24. Connecticut 14-12-14-40.
Power Play Opportunities-Portland 0 / 6; Connecticut 0 / 8.
Goalies-Portland, Johnson 14-10-0 (14 shots-12 saves); Lee 3-0-0 (26 shots-24 saves). Connecticut, Talbot 18-19-1 (24 shots-23 saves).
Referees-Ryan Fraser (14).
Linesmen-Jim Briggs (83), Brent Colby (7).