The Connecticut Whale and Bridgeport Sound Tigers opened their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series (ECQF series ‘C’) on Thursday with game 1 in Bridgeport, and finished the series on Sunday at the XL Center in Hartford on an overtime goal by Whale’ forward, Casey Wellman.
“I saw (Redden) with the puck, and I called for it,” said Wellman after game 3. “I was excited because I was open, so he made a pass and luckily I was able to put it in…we’re just happy to advance.”
Game 3 was the final, and longest, game of the series. It began with first period goals by Whale’ forward Marek Hrivik, and Sound Tigers forward Justin Dibenedetto. Bridgeport’s first period goal was its first goal of the entire series, snapping a 139:44 shutout streak for Connecticut’s goaltender Cam Talbot.
After a scoreless second period, the Whale and Sound Tigers went back-and-forth in period 3, beginning with a goal by Ryan Bourque at the 5:32 mark. Bridgeport answered with the tying goal five minutes later, scored by David Ullstrom, and then the Whale responded with another goal by Hrivik to regain its one-goal lead.
Bridgeport scored late in the third period (16:39) to tie the game at 3-3, and send the series into its first overtime. The tying goal was scored by Rhett Rakhshani. Connecticut received a power-play late in the overtime frame, following a slashing-call on Bridgeport’s Tony Romano. The Whale took advantage of the power-play, as Wellman scored at 16:36—with four seconds left in the man-advantage.
Wellman’s goal was the series-clincher for the Whale, after they defeated Bridgeport in games 1 and 2 by the scores of 3-0. Talbot totaled 83 saves in the first two tilts, and the Whale received scoring from several different places. In game 1, Kelsey Tessier, Bourque and Jordan Owens scored; and in game 2, Jonathan Audy-Marchessault and Hrivik (2) scored.
“Even going back to game 1, we had secondary scoring and everyone was contributing and holding their weight,” said head coach Ken Gernander, who was pleased with his clubs performance, and excited about his first series-win as a head coach. “It’s a pretty special feeling. Playoffs are a special time of year and it’s a privilege for everyone who gets to play in them…to advance is a very good feeling.”
“I thought we played solid in all areas in the last three games…obviously when you advance in the playoffs you’ll have to enhance your game because the competition gets better and better, but overall we were good in all areas.”
One area that the Whale was especially strong in during the first round was defense and goaltending. The Whale allowed only three goals in three games, and Talbot’s two shutouts, 127 saves, .96 goals-against-average and .977 save-percentage played a key role in that.
“I think in these three games we played real solid defensively…Talbot played great, and our defense helped,” said Wellman. “Championships can be won on goaltending alone…just having confidence with Talbot right now is great, and we’re playing solid in front him, but he’s making the saves when we need him to.”
After playing very strong in the final months of the season, Talbot earned himself the starting job in the playoffs, and proved through his first-round performance that he is a very dependable netminder.
“He’s had a great run in April, and he’s been a big part of our success,” said Gernander. “He played well in all three games.”
Talbot credited his defense for his success in the first-round, saying: “They were great all series long…if I let a rebound, they did a hell of a job clearing it. They were great throughout the series and I can’t say enough about my defense.”
On offense, the Whale received its major scoring boost from 20-year-old Hrivik, who recorded back-to-back multi-goal games and scored four times in the series.
“He’s a good all-around player, and he’s been producing for us,” Gernander said on Sunday. “We have no problem using him because he is solid defensively and makes smart play’s with the puck…he has a lot of responsibility and receives a lot of ice-time, and he’s making the most of it.”
Hrivik—who almost never signed with the Whale, as he was planning to return home after his QMJHL club, the Moncton Wildcats, lost in the first-round of the playoffs—is happy to be part of the team, and hopes to continue contributing in round 2.
“It’s a great thing for us to win the series. We have a great group of guys, and just proved that we’re a strong team,” he said on Sunday. “We battled hard and we got our wins.”
Hrivik appeared in eight regular-season games with the Whale prior to the playoffs, and scored once in that time. He said that, “in the first eight games our line played well and we got a lot of chances, but couldn’t score goals.”
Everyone who spoke with the media following Sunday’s victory echoed the importance of playing disciplined and succeeding on special teams. The Whale’s power-play was 3-for-14 in the first-round, scoring on 21.4-percent of their opportunities.
On the penalty-kill, the Whale was 12-for-13 in three games, successfully eliminating 92.3-percent of Bridgeport’s man-advantages.
“(Special teams) are important this time of year…in one-goal games, if one of your special teams can get you a goal, that’s enormous. On the other hand, you hope that you don’t give up much on the penalty-kill because each game will be tight,” said Gernander.
Wellman said that discipline was “something we talked about a lot,” and that the Whale knew Bridgeport would get “chippy and frustrated” as the series went on. Wellman added that it was important that no one took any “stupid penalties” and instead allowed Bridgeport to take them.
At the earliest, the Whale will find out who its Eastern Conference Semi-Final (ECSF) opposition will be on Friday. The four possible teams include the first-place Norfolk Admirals (series tied 1-1 with Manchester), the fourth-place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins or fifth-place Hershey Bears (Penguins lead series 2-0), and the seventh-place Syracuse Crunch (series tied 1-1 with Saint John’s). Regardless of whom the Whale play’s, as long as the team can continue playing as a whole; it will put up a fight.
Three stars of round 1
1. Cam Talbot (3-0-0, two shutouts, .96 GAA, .977 SVP)
2. Marek Hrivik (4-0-4, 10 shots, two power-play goals)
3. Casey Wellman (1-3-4, 11 shots, one power-play goal—series clinching goal)
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