At the end of the day, a win is a win.
If you stuck around and watched the final seven minutes of this 4-3 win by the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins, you saw the Hartford Wolf Pack get two desperation goals to make it a game, but a game with under a minute to go.
Two big third period goals by Dominik Uher were enough insurance for the Penguins to hold on and win, separate themselves from the fifth place Wolf Pack and shrink the magic number to clinch playoffs down to 5 points. Realistically, the Penguins can punch their ticket to their thirteenth straight playoff appearance this weekend.
Jeff Zatkoff vs. Mackenzie Skapski
Personnel News: J-S Dea was sent to Wheeling in the afternoon….Matt Murray won AHL Goaltender of the Month for the second consecutive month, the first AHL Goaltender to do so since Phillippe Sauve for Hershey in 2002…Taylor Chorney was a late scratch for the Penguins tonight, presumably recalled to the Pittsburgh Penguins, who played a defenseman short again tonight.
First Period: Alex Boak misplayed a puck in his own zone, was dispossessed by the Hartford forecheck and Oscar Lindberg scored to make it 1-0 Wolf Pack 4:00 in. The Penguins were flat to start and did not register a single shot on goal until 6:44 left in the period. Jeff Zatkoff kept the Penguins in the game during the period. Final shots on goal was 13-4 Hartford after the first period.
Second Period: Period started with the Penguins on a carryover power play from the first period. Here’s how bad that went. The Penguins were whistled for a deliberate offside which brought the faceoff in their own end. Hartford easily killed it and hit a post seconds after.
Finally, the Penguins got to the cycle. Hartford was on their heels. It felt like the Penguins were building momentum and that if they slipped and allowed to let the Wolf Pack to score to make the score 2-0, that it would be game over.
It didn’t happen. Tom Kuhnhackl found Brian Dumoulin at the far wall, who saw a streaking Jayson Megna cutting down the slot. Dumoulin shot the puck at Megna’s stick and Megna was able to deflect home the puck for a tie game. Next level a) shot pass by Dumoulin and b) defection by Megna to manufacture a goal in that sequence.
More forechecking by the Penguins. Hartford was forced to ice. Dylan McIlrath roughed Tom Kostopoulos. Penguins power play. Then Chris Bourque goes for slashing. Full Penguin five-on-three for 63 seconds. Penguins time out.
Turning point. Get one here and it’s an entirely different ballgame from here in.
Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Oh man, they aren’t going to score here. Pass. Pass. GOAL! Scott Wilson put it on net and Tom Kostopoulos, parked right in front, deflected it in for a 2-1 Penguin lead.
The fact that the Penguins came out flatter than a pancake in the first period was long forgotten.
The Wolf Pack would get 1:32 of their own five-on-three but not score on it. You could argue, and I would let you, that this was the turning point of the game.
How did the Wolf Pack get a two-man advantage you ask? Scott Wilson was sent off for a holding infraction. During the kill Carter Rowney tried to bat down a pass to him at his own blue line but missed. He chased the puck down to Skapski but had to stop abruptly and sprayed Skapski with snow. Referee David Banfield didn’t like this and assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Rowney. A horrible call. Look, you have two playoff teams battling one another in an overall clean game which is closely and hotly contested. Let the players decide the outcome, dammit.
Hartford wouldn’t score on the power plays, so it went all for naught.
Third Period: :10 in, Dominik Uher whipped a one timer past Skapski for a 3-1 Penguins lead. Later, Brian Dumoulin would slap pass again to Uher who deflected it past Skapski for a 4-1 Wilkes-Barre lead.
Proof that the Penguins are a well coached team. Not just this article that appeared on the AHL site this week, but the Penguins just found another gear and zoomed past the Wolf Pack and were running circles around them.
But hold on. Hartford coach Ken Gernander is no slouch himself and the Wolf Pack are, after all, a playoff team. They started a push back. Zatkoff had to save two redirects. He didn’t save the third. Chris Bourque (who else) scored it and it was game on again.
With Skapski vacated, Mat Bodie boomed in a slap shot from the blue line that made it 4-3 with just 24.9 seconds left. But the Penguins won the faceoff and the Wolf Pack didn’t gain entry into the offensive zone again and the Penguins would hold on.
Three Stars: 3) Tom Kostopoulos (goal, -1) 2) Brian Dumoulin (three assist, +1) and 1) Dominik Uher (two goals, +1)
Around the Division: The Hershey Bears lost in a shootout to the Worcester Sharks 3-2. The Sharks are in town Friday and have won six straight, battling for their playoff lives as well. Lehigh Valley was in Norfolk and won 3-2. Binghamton was in Syracuse and won in overtime 3-2.
Standings: Hershey 92 — Penguins 85 — Lehigh Valley 69 — Binghamton 66 — Norfolk 55
Conference: 1) MCH (96) 2) HER (92) 3) SYR (89) 4) WBS (85) 5) WOR (82) 6) HFD (81) 7) PRO (81) 8) POR (80)
Wow. Worcester is fifth in the conference with a game in hand on the Penguins, Wolf Pack and Bruins.
Wheeling Update: The Nailers were in Elmira tonight and lost 4-1.
SendToNews Highlaights: Are not up yet. You may be on your own to get them because I am traveling tomorrow and may not be able to edit them in. The Penguins will probably have them up on YouTube at some point.
Worcester is in Friday. If you are wondering where I am traveling to, it’s to my brothers in New Jersey which means that I won’t be at the games Friday or Saturday vs Lehigh Valley. I don’t like missing home games, but family first. Anyone that has one will understand.
I do plan on watching the games from afar and will have full service here on the blog and every place else you know me for.
Let’s Go Pens!!!