The Connecticut Whale and Bridgeport Sound Tigers met for game 3 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series (ECQF Series ‘C’) at the XL Center on Sunday, as the Whale attempted to sweep its GEICO CT Cup rivals.
Early in the first period, the Whale received a 5-on-3 power-play after Sound Tigers’ Matt Donovan and Blair Riley took back-to-back minor-penalties. The Whale took advantage of the power-play with a goal at 6:11 of period 1, scored by rookie Marek Hrivik. The play started on a keep-in by defenseman Mike Vernace, who controlled the puck at the blueline and quickly passed off to Casey Wellman. Wellman sent a pass to Hrivik, who finished the play by sending a hard wrist-shot over the blocker-side of Bridgeport’s goaltender, Kevin Poulin.
For Hrivik, it was his third goal of the post-season as he gave the Whale an early 1-0 lead.
“(Hrivik’s) a good all-around player and he’s been producing for us,” said head coach Ken Gernander after the game. “We have no problem using him because he is solid defensively and makes smart plays with the puck.”
After 139:44 of shutout playoff hockey by Whale’ goaltender Cam Talbot—who pitched a 42-save shutout in game 1, and 41-save shutout in game 2—the 24-year-old netminder allowed his first goal of the playoffs at 19:44 of period 1. The goal was scored by Sound Tigers’ Justin DiBenedetto on a power-play, as the forward shoved a rebound past Talbot’s right-pad to tie the game, 1-1. David Ullstrom and Calvin de Haan assisted on Bridgeport’s first post-season tally.
In period 2, the Whale fired 22 shots at Poulin, but the Bridgeport goaltender turned away all of them. The Whale had three power-play chances turned away during the period as well. At the opposite end of the ice, Talbot made 10 stops on Bridgeport, including a huge breakaway save on Casey Cizikas about 18 minutes into the period.
At 5:32 of period 3, the Whale regained its one-goal lead after rookie Ryan Bourque finished a 2-on-1 by scoring his second goal of the post-season. Andreas Thuresson started the play by poking a free puck into the offensive zone; Bourque then collected the puck, slid a pass to Kelsey Tessier and one-timed a return pass into Bridgeport’s net for a 2-1 Whale lead.
Bridgeport tied the game at 10:32 on a goal by forward Ullstrom. The Sound Tigers’ first goal scorer, DiBenedetto, fed Ullstrom with a pass from behind the net, which Ullstrom collected and shot past Talbot for the tying goal. The Whale quickly responded, when Hrivik scored once again to give his club a 3-2 lead. Hrivik grabbed an Andre Deveaux pass in the neutral-zone, skated the puck into the offensive-zone on a 2-on-1 with Tessier, and ripped a shot over Poulin for his second goal of the game and fourth of the playoffs.
The Whale faced the tough task of holding its one-goal lead with over eight minutes remaining in regulation. Unfortunately for them, the Sound Tigers continued firing shot after shot at Talbot, eventually scoring the tying goal at 16:39. Rhett Rakshani scored the goal by shoving a Tony Romano rebound past Talbot and into the Whale net. Another assist was rewarded to de Haan.
The final few minutes of the third period went scoreless, and the series saw its first overtime game.
At 14:40 of the overtime frame, Sound Tigers’ Romano was given a minor-penalty for slashing the stick of Whale’ Brendan Bell. With four seconds left in the power-play, at 16:36, Whale Captain Wade Redden carried the puck in the offensive zone, sent a pass to Wellman, and Wellman finished the play, and the game, with his first goal of the playoffs.
“I saw (Redden) with the puck and I called for it, I got excited because I was open,” Wellman said after the game. “He made the pass and I was able to put it in…it feels great.”
The goal gave the Whale its 4-3 victory, as well as the series sweep over Bridgeport. Thuresson was also given an assist on the winner.
“We’re happy to advance,” said Wellman. “In the end, it just comes down to how you play.”
The first star of the game was given to Wellman for his game-winning goal, while Kris Newbury was the second star and Ullstrom the third…the Whale power-play was 2-for-6 in the game, and the penalty-killing was 2-for-3…Newbury led the Whale in shots for the game with nine, followed by Hrivik and Wellman who each had six…tonight’s victory gives the Whale its first playoff advance since 2006…
Final score: Whale 4, Sound Tigers 3 (In overtime; Whale win series 3-0)
Connecticut’s Eastern Conference Semi-Final (ECSF) opposition has yet to be determined. Check back to the blog this week for an ECQF review and much more.
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