CANTLON: Charlotte Takes On Wolf Pack in Sunday Matinee
BY: Gerry Cantlon, Howlings
HARTFORD, CT – The Hartford Wolf Pack playoff hopes may have come to an end on Sunday.
For the Pack to make the playoffs, it will nearly take a miracle for it to happen. A shocking second-period collapse saw the visiting Charlotte Checkers score four times to pick up two points in a 4-3 win. The Wolf Pack record drops to 26-27-5-3 (60 points) four points behind the fifth-place Bridgeport Sound Tigers and Charlotte jumps to a nine-point lead.
The Wolf Pack needed at least four points this weekend but got only one after two regulation losses and one in overtime. The Pack played well throughout points of the game registering 35 shots. They got themselves to within a goal and generated a number of scoring opportunities against the Checkers, but the odious end of the second period permeated the Wolf Pack effort making a close 4-3 game feel like a 7-1 shellacking.
The second half of the second period, particularly during a minute and 57-second span where they surrendered three goals, left for the second intermission trailing 4-2 and left a Sunday afternoon crowd of 4,802 sitting in utter disbelief as the Pack collapsed.
The four-goal outburst of the second period started at 7:06.
Andrew Poturalski intercepted a bad pass by Filip Chytil and sent a lead pass to Warren Foegele who split the defensive combo of Ryan Sproul and Chris Bigras and beat the goaltender, Charles Williams, who was making his first AHL start. Foegele went with a forehand shot through Williams five-hole for his 24th goal of the season.
The deluge of goals began at 14:49.
While on a power play, Checkers’ defenseman, Brandon Kichton, took a shot from the right point. The puck seemed to be deflected by either Alexei Saarela or Nicolas Roy, though neither got credit for the goal. Saarela and Roy both got assists on a goal where the puck sailed right over Williams’ shoulder.
“We knew they had a good power play and on the faceoff, we mismanaged pucks (on their first goal) and then we let the game get out of our grasp,” said a shockingly calm McCambridge.
Sixteen-seconds later, Clark Bishop was alone at the right side and snagged a rebound of a Foegele shot and buried it on the open right side giving Charlotte a 3-2 lead. It was Foegele’s seventh of the year. Nick Schilkey started the play at the right side of the net out working to get the puck to a wide-open Foegele.
The coup de grace came 1:41 later as Greg McKegg attempted a wraparound shot, lsent the puck right to the AHL’s top goal scorer, Valentin Zykov, who scored his league-leading 28th goal past a shellshocked Williams, who was flat on his stomach with his bewildered teammates standing around.
McCambridge had no choice at that point but to get out the hook and for the second time in three games pulled his goalie. McCambridge inserted Chris Nell.
“Certainly a frustrating part, no doubt, but I liked our energy. We came out well and corrected some of the mistakes from the night before. That block of time took the game away from us. You want to be on the right side of momentum swings in a game. We weren’t in this case.”
It could have been worse. The AHL’s fourth-leading scorer, Andrew Miller, a former Yale Bulldog, wasn’t in the lineup for Charlotte.
Unlike the night before, the Pack scored on a five-on-three man-advantage midway through the third, to make it a closer game, maybe even enough to steal some of the thunder back from Charlotte.
At the left side of the net, Scott Kosmachuk got the puck to Boo Nieves at the right and he jammed his fifth of the season at 11:06.
“I liked how we fought back got it close, but we couldn’t close it out,” said McCambridge.
The Pack shot itself in the foot with while trying to get an extra attacker onto the ice, Nell got hit in the foot with the puck causing a rare for the situation, Too-Many-Men on the ice penalty.
“We had somebody who wasn’t sharp and jumped on the ice. As a player you lose focus for five seconds…” said McCambridge curtly.
Vinni Lettieri had a late draw with 15 seconds left. He won it cleanly but someone was out of position and that allowed the puck to sail 180 feet back the wrong way, all the way back to the Wolf Pack goal line.
The Pack’s offensive woes got a boost early in the second period.
Chytil was sprung free by Lettieri with a beautiful rush up the left wing side. They raced past Charlotte defenseman Trevor Carrick and Chytil whistled his first goal in ten games to the far side on Alex Nedeljkovic at 30 seconds for a 2-0.
“With Fil, you get worried if he’s not generating chances and he has been doing that the last few games and that was a high skill play by him.”
The first period each team dealt with the effects of playing three-games-in-three-days. It took awhile before thee was any flow to the game.
The Wolf Pack’s two best chances before their first goal came from Lettieri shorthanded and later, with 5:48 left in the period, Daniel Catenacci was on a two-on-one shorthanded and fed Steve Fogarty that Alex Nedejlkovic stopped in net for the visitors.
Sandwiched between the special team’s chances was a Chris Bigras chance at 14:01 off a strong rush with a break-in that saw his backhand attempt stopped. Ryan Gropp, who missed the last three games to injury, was behind the goal line and tried a nice pool player’s bank-shot and then Gabriel Fontaine had a clean breakaway denied.
The toughest of the twelve shots Williams stopped came off the stick of Schilikey and Nicolas Roy on his doorstep.
The Wolf Pack finally tallied late in the first on a superb drop pass by defensemen, Brendan Smith. He crossed the blue line and cut to the middle and left it for Adam Tambellini on the right wing. From the top of the faceoff circle, Tambellini snapped one to the far side of Nedjelokovic for his 13th goal at 18:08.
“A very good, quick-release shot by Tambo. He does well in high-traffic areas and Brendan made a good pass to him,” remarked McCambridge.
The Wolf Pack are not only losing points in the playoff hunt in part due to an offensive power outage in the past three weeks.
Tambellini has four points in his last ten games and two games in which he earned a goal and an assist. Boo Nieves has just a goal and three assists in his last ten. Chytil had just one assist in ten games and Cole Schneider has two goals and two assists in his last ten
John Albert has no points in the ten games he has played since coming from Hershey in a four-player deal. Albert was on the fourth line last night and he’s making $225K in the AHL this season. He sat out for the first time.
The two-team battle next weekend in Charlotte at the Bojangles Coliseum on Friday and Saturday.
Pack scratches included; Brandon Crawley (upper body day to day), Dan DeSalvo (healthy), Joey Leach (healthy), goalie Brandon Halverson (knee day to day) and goalie Marek Mazanec (groin week to week).
Last four players on the ice where Lettieri, Fontaine, Kosmachuk, and Chytil during the pre-game skate.
Assistant captains were Schneider, Fogarty, and Kosmachuk.
On penalty shots, The Wolf Pack are 3-for-17 in their last 20 dating back to February 14, 2012, when J.T. Miller now with Tampa Bay, scored.
Up in St. Anselm College in Manchester, NH, the New England Prep High School tourney Finals are taking place today.
In the Open Division, Salisbury Prep played Kimball Union losing 3-2.
Salisbury advanced shutting out Westminster Prep (Simsbury) 3-0 and knocking off Dexter Academy 3-1.
In the NEPSAC Large Division Brunswick Prep (Greenwich) took on Thayer Academy winning 4-3 in OT. Their path came with two shutouts over Williston 2-0 and Northfield/Mt. Hermon 5-0.
In the Small Division Gunnery Prep (Washington) fell short losing in the semi-finals to Lawrence Academy 3-2 in overtime after beating Canterbury Prep (New Milford) 4-2 in the quarterfinals.
The winner was Lawrence Academy 5-4 in OT over New Hampton School from New Hampshire coached by Hamden native and former Taft head coach Dan Murphy.