BY: Bruce Berlet (Special to Howlings)
Talbot had been 0-2-1-0 against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, with all three losses coming on the shores of Long Island Sound. It was part of the Whale being 0-2-3-0 at the Webster Bank Arena on the way to finishing second to the Sound Tigers in the Northeast Division.
But Talbot excelled when it mattered most, finishing with a franchise playoff record 42 saves for his fifth shutout of the season and third in six starts as the Whale beat the Sound Tigers 3-0 in the opener of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series Thursday night.
Game 2 is Saturday night at the Webster Bank Arena before the best-of-five series moves to the XL Center in Hartford for Game 3 on Sunday at 5 p.m.
Whale rookie defenseman Tim Erixon, whose brilliant stretch pass set up Kelsey Tessier for the winner 1:03 into the third period, paid Talbot an extremely high compliment after he and his goalie each had special first pro playoff games.
“Cam was terrific, and I love that,” said Erixon, who began his first season in North America with the New York Rangers and later had two recalls. “It’s almost like we had Hank (Rangers star goalie Henrik Lundqvist) out there. I like when a goalie is playing good because you feel comfortable playing in front of him and feel confident because he’s playing really solid right now.”
Rookie left wing Ryan Bourque, who had a goal and an assist along with Tessier, called Talbot’s effort “outstanding.”
“Some saves I couldn’t believe how he did it,” said Bourque, the son of Hockey Hall of Famer Ray Bourque and younger brother of Hershey Bears left wing Chris Bourque, an AHL first-team selection who led the league in scoring with 93 points. “But you’re going to see that quite often because he works hard every day, and that hard work paid off.”
Talbot had allowed only five goals in his previous five games but said he was “excited and a little surprised” when coach Ken Gernander told him after practice Wednesday that he was going to start instead of Chad Johnson, who was 4-2-1 with a 2.58 goals-against average and .916 save percentage against the Sound Tigers this season. But Talbot broke J.F. Labbe’s team playoff record for saves in a shutout (40) that he had set in a 3-0 victory over Rochester on June 2, 2000, as the then Hartford Wolf Pack won the franchise’s only Calder Cup.
“I don’t even know how to describe it,” Talbot said. “(Johnson) has pretty much been the guy all year, so I just tried to play well at the end of the season when I got a chance to come in. (Gernander) felt I played well enough to get a start tonight, and I didn’t want to let him down. So I went out there and played my ass off.”
Indeed he did, especially since Thursday was the first time he felt good on the ice since last weekend.
“I just tried to focus as much as I could, see most of the shots and just try to eat everything I could and not create too much work for myself,” Talbot said. “And our defense did a great job letting me see the initial shot and find the puck if I did give up a rebound. They did a great job whacking pucks away and not giving those second or third opportunities that Bridgeport pretty much thrives on. They’re a second- and third-opportunity team, drive the net hard and get big bodies to the net, so we did a great job of clearing those rebounds that I left. That’s a big key for us.”
Talbot was especially sharp when he stopped a breakaway by David Ullstrom, who led the Sound Tigers with 24 goals in only 40 games because he played 29 games with the parent New York Islanders. Ullstrom stole the puck from Whale defenseman Brendan Bell in the neutral zone and broke in on a 2-on-none but was denied with 8:34 left in the second period. That came 1:10 before John Persson appeared to poke in a rebound, but referee Mark Lemelin disallowed the goal, saying he was in the process of blowing his whistle.
“The puck was laying there,” Persson said. “(Talbot) didn’t have it covered.”
Talbot later got a piece of a Michael Haley’s shot before it hit the post early in the third period, then with Poulin pulled for a sixth attacker, he stopped Casey Cizikas’ backhander with 51 seconds left.
Still, Talbot wasn’t completely satisfied.
“I think I have played better,” Talbot said. “I didn’t control my rebounds as well as I’d like to. I pushed a couple things out there that I shouldn’t have. I think I’ve had more solid games, but this one probably felt the best so far.
“This ranks right up there, my first pro playoff start, my first pro playoff win and a shutout, all in the same night. It’s a pretty special night for me, but it’s also a huge night for the guys. It’s not about the shutout, it’s more about the win for the boys, and that’s huge taking away their home-ice advantage.”
It’s also huge for a guy who played Tier II juniors with the Hamilton Red Wings, then attended a Canadian university and worked on a finance degree for several years and then decided to play college hockey at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, hardly a major powerhouse. But in the 2009-10 season, the man whose hero growing up was Hall of Famer Patrick Roy led UA-H to the NCAA Tournament and nearly pulled off an astonishing upset against No. 1 Miami-Ohio, losing 2-1 despite his team being outshot 38-17.
After turning pro, Talbot learned a new style from Rangers goaltending coach Benoit Allaire, one of the best in the business. At UA-H, Talbot liked to come out of the crease and challenge. Allaire prefers his goalies to stay in the net and react, something that Lundqvist excels at, so after the Rangers signed Talbot as a free agent on March 30, 2010, he began the process of change.
“I think I’m pretty set now with how I want to play,” Talbot said. “I feel pretty confident with the way Benoit kind of molded us into playing. I think it was more just taking what he was giving me and taking what my natural ability was giving me in college and kind of molding them into one. Working with Benoit has really helped me a lot, and I think I’m where I am in my career because of him.
“I don’t think I’ve been on a role like this in my life. It definitely feels great, but it’s just one win out of 15 to go (to win the Calder Cup). It feels good right now, but we have to forget about it tomorrow because Saturday is another game.”
Talbot battled Kevin Poulin (33 saves) to a scoreless standoff for two periods before the Whale struck quickly in the third as Erixon’s all-world pass found Tessier, who broke behind Sound Tigers defensemen Mark Katic and Aaron Ness and beat Poulin cleanly at 1:03.
“I saw (Tessier) up there and knew he was going to go through the middle and try to get open,” Erixon said. “We made a little eye contact, I waited a little bit for him to get open and then made the pass. It was important pass (in a scoreless game), and it was good that it got through.”
Tessier thought the pass was more than just good and got to celebrate his first playoff goal and later an assist in front of his parents, who are visiting for the postseason from Fredericton, New Brunswick.
“It was fun to get our first win here when it counts, and it was real team effort because (the Sound Tigers) came out really strong,” Tessier said. “The defense kept poised and stuck with it, then we came out a lot harder in the second and even more in third and came made some amazing saves.
“Tim’s pass was amazing, too. We regrouped in our own zone, and I switched with (right wing Andre Deveaux) and he took the middle. I saw Tim eye me and that he wanted me to cut in right at the blueline. When I did, he threw me that saucer pass right on my tape, and I just had to finish it. I know Poulin is a very aggressive goalie, so I just wanted to get a quick shot on him and make sure he doesn’t get set.”
Gernander said the first goal was “a big, emotional boost that helped to elevate our game.”
Talbot said he couldn’t really see what happened because of all the bodies between him and the other end of the ice, but he knew what to do when it was 1-0.
“As soon as I saw it in the net, I celebrated a little bit but tried not to get too emotional because I knew there was still (19) minutes to go,” Talbot said. “Bridgeport has got a lot of firepower, so that was huge getting the first goal, but it was even bigger getting the second and third ones and kind of put them away because if you let that team hang around, you’re asking for trouble. They’ve got a lot of goal-scorers and playmakers, so I think the second and third goals are just as important as the first.”
After Tessier broke the deadlock, the Whale had their best sustained pressure, but Talbot had to be sharp to stop Justin DiBenedetto’s rebound at the doorstep at 8:26. But the Whale continued to press and doubled their lead when Bourque’s pass from behind the net deflected off Sound Tigers defenseman Ty Wishart to Jordan Owens, who flipped a backhander past Poulin at 9:38.
“That was a real workmanlike effort, a couple of line changes and sustained pressure, just a lot of little plays instead of going for the home run or the glory,” Gernander said. “Little key plays kept up the pressure, and the last goal was a good clearing effort (by defenseman Pavel Valentenko) and good hustle through the neutral zone to win the puck, put it on net and a middle drive for a rebound.”
The speedy Bourque scored an insurance goal when Tessier outhustled Ness to the puck to set up a 2-on-1 with Bourque, who outworked Michael Haley for the puck and one-timed a Tessier rebound past Poulin with 6:42 left after another good lead pass.
“Tess is a smart player, so I knew when he took a look back and saw me coming hard that he was going to try to put it off the left pad because he wasn’t at a very good angle to try to get a good scoring opportunity,” Bourque said. “I just tried to get to the net and beat my guy off the puck, and the goalie almost saved it. But it was lucky enough to get through, and I was pretty happy.”
Gernander said Bourque deserved a break after being snake-bit at times during the season while getting only six goals and eight assists in 69 games, with his tenacity and penalty killing the best parts of his rookie season.
“He has been working hard all season, and it doesn’t always come to fruition as far as points,” Gernander said. “But tonight he was all over the rink, all over the scoresheet and had a good game.”
The Sound Tigers were 9-2-0-0 down the stretch while getting eight players back from injuries and the Islanders, compared to 3-5-2-2 for the Whale, who limped to the finish line without an injured Deveaux, Bell and captain Wade Redden. The Whale scored more than three goals only once in the last 12 games, a 5-4 shootout loss to the visiting Manchester Monarchs last Friday night, but Talbot made sure those trends would change Thursday night.
The teams went through the proverbial “feeling out period” the first 10 minutes, with the recent offensively challenged Whale getting only one shot in the first 91/2 minutes, a harmless 40-footer from the left wing by Bourque. But the pace quickened during the Sound Tigers’ second power play as Talbot made a sprawling save on DiBenedetto’s rebound in front with 7:32 left. Poulin reciprocated with a diving save on Valentenko’s shot from the left point with 5:51 to go.
Poulin then earned the save of the first period with 1:42 left when he made glove stab of All-Star rookie wing Jonathan Audy-Marchessault’s bid from 15 feet in the slot off a steal from Sound Tigers defenseman Calvin de Haan.
The teams returned to a more defensive posture at the start of the second period before Talbot stopped Ullstrom’s breakaway and Cizikas’ jam attempt on a power play was waved off. Talbot then made an alert stop on Ullstrom’s deflection in tight with 6:44 to go before Poulin had two stellar saves off similar bids from the lower left circle in the final 1:26. He made a sprawling save on Tessier after a deft setup by Kris Newbury and flicked out his glove to stop rookie Marek Hrivik with 10.2 seconds left.
But Poulin couldn’t stave off the Whale in the third period, while Talbot remained perfect, rightfully earned the game’s No. 1 star and seemed a lock to play Saturday night at his and his teammates’ previous house of horrors this season.
“Cam was great and obviously a big part of our win,” Gernander said. “Coming down the stretch, Cam had a little bit hotter hand, a little better record and little better numbers. It wasn’t an easy decision because Johnner has been good for us all season and his overall body of work is pretty good, but as of late, I think Cam deserved to play in tonight’s game.
“I loved the third period. I thought everything got elevated, and obviously we enjoyed the outcome. All the games all season have been so close (eight of 10 decided by one goal) that if you eliminated this or that mistake, it could have been a little bit different outcome. I think we played with less mistakes and gave less opportunities tonight.
“And it was great to see us get some secondary scoring, and that’s what it’s going to take. It was a 0-0 game for a long time, and anybody can step up and be a hero, so it was nice to see.”
MILLER SET TO ARRIVE; NOREAU SIGNS
Forward J.T. Miller, the Rangers’ first-round pick (15th overall) in 2011, is scheduled to arrive in Hartford on Friday and hopefully practice with the Whale after the Plymouth Whalers were eliminated by the Kitchener Rangers in Game 7 of their Ontario Hockey League second-round series Tuesday night.
“We’ll see how he looks (in practice) and then make a decision,” Gernander said when asked if Miller would play Saturday night.
Miller had two goals and eight assists in 13 playoff games after being the Whalers’ best player in the regular season with 25 goals and 37 assists in 61 games. The 19-year-old is now eligible to sign an amateur tryout contract and join previous signees Hrivik, Steve Moses, Shane McColgan, Andrew Yogan, Peter Ceresnak and Samuel Noreau, a 6-foot-5, 215-pound defenseman who signed Thursday after the Baie-Comeau Drakkar were eliminated from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs. Noreau replaced Ceresnak, who was the only newcomer not to play down the stretch and was released from his ATO on Wednesday. Ceresnak and Yogan signed after the Peterborough Petes failed to qualify for the OHL playoffs, with Yogan going scoreless in four games before sustaining a foot injury. He returned to practice Wednesday with the “Black Aces,” the extras who work out after the regulars.
The Whale scratched goalie Jason Missiaen, defensemen Noreau, Sam Klassen, Blake Parlett and Lee Baldwin, forwards McColgan, Scott Tanski, Chris McKelvie, Jeff Prough and Jason Wilson and injured forwards Yogan and Francois Bouchard. The Sound Tigers scratched defensemen Jon Landry and Russ Sinkevich, forwards Tony Romano, Scott Howes, Tyler McNeely, Jordie Johnston, Marc Cantin, Mike Halmo, Brett Gallant, former Hartford Wolf Pack left wing Trevor Gillies and injured goalie Anders Nilsson and center/captain Jeremy Colliton.
Former New England Whalers center Garry Swain of Simsbury was named director of corporate partnerships for Whalers Sports and Entertainment on Thursday. He has worked for WSE for the past year as a sales associate and radio color commentator.
In other first-round openers Thursday night, Yann Danis, an AHL first-team selection, had to make only 14 saves as Oklahoma City won 5-0 at Houston, which was outshot 48-14; Jon Matsumoto scored his second goal at 5:23 of overtime to give San Antonio a 5-4 victory over visiting Chicago; and Jerry D’Amigo’s second goal with 4:17 left gave Toronto a 4-3 victory over visiting Rochester.
Mike Fornabaio does his usual great job at CTPost.com. There are some terrific pictures associated with the Fornabaio piece; 19 to be exact. It was a pleasant surprise to see the incredible Jeff Jacobs there for the Hartford Courant. The Courant also sent a photographer who posted a library of some amazing pictures as well.
SOUNDS OF THE GAME:
JAM – Newbury – Thomas
Hrivik – Wellman – Moses
Grant – Tessier – Deveaux
Bourque – Owens – Thuresson
Valentenko – Vernace
REDDEN – Bell
Erixon – Nightingale
(Captain in CAPS / Assistant Captains are Italicized)
Francois Bouchard – Broken Wrist – Indefinite
Andrew Yogan – Lower Body Injury – Indefinite
Chad Kolarik – Knee – (Can’t Play Due To Roster Issue)
Scott Tanski – Healthy Scratch
Sam Klassen – Healthy Scratch
Blake Parlett – Healthy Scratch
Chris McKelvie – Healthy Scratch
Lee Baldwin – Healthy Scratch
Jason Missiaen – Healthy Scratch
Jeff Prough – Healthy Scratch
Shane McColgan – Healthy Scratch
Jason Wilson – Healthy Scratch
1. CT – C. Talbot
2. CT – K. Tessier
3. CT – R. Bourque
Geno Binda (22)
Mark Lemelin (41)
Jim Briggs (83)
Kevin Redding (16)
The Whale look to take full control of the series when they revisit Bridgeport for Game Two of the series with the Sound Tigers at 7pm Saturday night. You can hear all the action with Bob Crawford and Chad Kolarik on the color commentary on WCCC.com starting at 7:20.
To watch the game live, you can purchased it for $9.99 at AHL-live.
For Ticket information for all home games, call (860) 548-2000.
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Connecticut Whale 3 at Bridgeport Sound Tigers 0 – Status: Final
Thursday, April 19, 2012 – Webster Bank Arena
Connecticut 0 0 3 – 3
Bridgeport 0 0 0 – 0
1st Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Erixon Ct (holding), 1:41; Valentenko Ct (hooking), 10:30; de Haan Bri (hooking), 14:43; Audy-Marchessault Ct (unsportsmanlike conduct), 18:43.
2nd Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Wellman Ct (interference), 12:07.
3rd Period-1, Connecticut, Tessier 1 (Erixon, Nightingale), 1:03. 2, Connecticut, Owens 1 (Bourque), 9:38. 3, Connecticut, Bourque 1 (Tessier, Valentenko), 13:18. Penalties-Owens Ct (roughing), 2:07; Poulin Bri (roughing), 2:07; Newbury Ct (slashing), 19:17.
Shots on Goal-Connecticut 10-13-13-36. Bridgeport 10-15-17-42.
Power Play Opportunities-Connecticut 0 / 1; Bridgeport 0 / 5.
Goalies-Connecticut, Talbot 1-0-0 (42 shots-42 saves). Bridgeport, Poulin 0-1-0 (36 shots-33 saves).
Referees-Geno Binda (22), Mark Lemelin (41).
Linesmen-Jim Briggs (83), Kevin Redding (16).