Hershey, PA - Cam Talbot made 24 saves for his second shutout in his last three starts Sunday, as the Connecticut Whale defeated the Hershey Bears, 1-0, at Giant Center. Defenseman Pavel Valentenko’s second-period goal was the only score of the game.
The Whale victory, combined with the Adirondack Phantoms’ 4-2 home loss to the Rochester Americans, clinched a playoff spot for the Whale.
“It was a great game, back and forth, I thought,” said Talbot, who also blanked the Adirondack Phantoms last Saturday night in Hartford, with 26 saves in a 3-0 win. “Both teams had some good chances, but I thought we did a great job eliminating their top guys from a lot of scoring chances, (AHL leading scorer Chris) Bourque and (Kyle) Greentree and their first line. They were around the net but really didn’t get a whole lot of quality scoring chances. I think the defense did a great job of clearing out rebounds for me and boxing out when I needed to see the puck.”
The victory improved the Whale’s record to 36-25-7-5 for 84 points, and moved them to within three points of idle Bridgeport for the Northeast Division lead.
An evenly-played first period ended scoreless, with the best chance for either team coming near the 12:00 mark, when Bourque sent the puck up the slot to Mike Carman, but Carman’s deflection went off the goalpost to Talbot’s right.
Hershey ended up with an 8-7 shots advantage coming out of the first, helped by a pair of late penalties against the Whale that gave the Bears’ league-leading power play (25.9% coming into the game) two closely-spaced chances. Talbot held strong, however, denying a pair of close-in bids by Greentree just before the end of the period.
The Whale finally broke the scoreless deadlock at 7:59 of the second period. After Kelsey Tessier won a faceoff from Hershey’s Andrew Carroll, linemates Jonathan Audy-Marchessault and Casey Wellman combined to deflect the puck back to Valentenko at the right point, and Valentenko’s slapshot beat Hershey netminder Dany Sabourin (25 saves) to the stick side.
The Whale and Talbot, who notched his fourth shutout of the year and ran his record to 14-14-0, made that lead stand up the rest of the way. The Whale got a break with 6:57 left in the third, when Carman received a major penalty for spearing Connecticut defenseman Tim Erixon, but they never threatened on the long power play. Then, with Sabourin on the bench for an extra attacker, Valentenko was called for kneeing at 19:33, but the Whale were able to survive that, despite the Bears having a six-on-four skater advantage with the goaltender pulled.
“It’s a load off the guys’ minds, to clinch a playoff spot with three games to go and we can kind of relax on that,” Talbot said. “But we have to remember that there are still two teams trying to catch us for sixth (in the Eastern Conference). We obviously want to stay in that sixth spot and not move down, so we still have three more games to go and hopefully six more points.”
“We’re obviously excited,” added Whale head coach Ken Gernander. “We’ve got one week left in the season to fine-tune a few things and get cranking here, but we’re definitely excited to clinch a playoff spot.”
The Whale’s next action is Wednesday night in Portland against the Pirates, a game that faces off at 6:30 PM (“The Rock” 106.9 WCCC-FM, www.ctwhale.com). The last Whale home game of the regular season is this Friday, April 13, as the Manchester Monarchs return to the XL Center for a 7:00 game. That is Fan Appreciation Night, and the first 5,000 fans receive a green Whale bracelet presented by Xfinity. Also, $5 Family Value combo meals are available. For tickets visit www.ctwhale.com. CT Whale action is presented by the Connecticut Lottery and sponsored by Aetna, CBT and St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center.
Connecticut Whale 1 at Hershey Bears 0
Sunday, April 8, 2012 - Giant Center
Connecticut 0 1 0 - 1
Hershey 0 0 0 - 0
1st Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Greentree Her (tripping), 7:33; Thuresson Ct (roughing), 16:35; Hrivik Ct (bench minor - too many men), 19:00.