Game Recap: Hartford Wolf Pack 7, Springfield Falcons 5
After failing to get a shot for nearly 12 minutes while falling behind by a goal, Corey Locke and Andres Ambuhl each had two goals and an assist as the Hartford Wolf Pack scored a franchise record seven goals in the second period in a 7-5 victory over the Springfield Falcons before 7,275 at the XL Center Saturday night.
The win came after the Wolf Pack were eliminated from playoff contention for the first time in their history Friday night.
The Wolf Pack had a season-high 23 shots in the second 20 minutes Saturday, while eclipsing their previous record for goals in a period by two en route to tying their season high for goals. The outburst assured the Wolf Pack (35-33-6-5) would finish above .500 for the 13th consecutive year while improving their recent run to 7-3-0-0 as they finished 6-2-2-0 against their I-91 rival to the north this season.
“Tonight was probably a little bit different circumstances for us not playing for a playoff spot, but we tried to prepare like we did for the other games and be professional about it,” said Ken Gernander, who had been part of the postseason with the Wolf Pack every year as a player, assistant coach and now coach. “I think there was a small bit of a letdown after (Friday night), but I think some of the little dustups (fights) probably helped us as far as the emotion part.”
After a sluggish start for both teams, the Falcons nearly took the lead before Chad Johnson (28 saves) smothered a rebound bid by Wethersfield native Colin McDonald off a 3-on-1 at 10:20. But the Falcons did take a 1-0 lead when Eddie Del Grosso centered off the left boards to a wide-open Chris Minard, who beat Johnson low to the stick side from 30 feet in the slot at 10:47.
The Falcons had the game’s first four shots before Corey Potter’s slapper from the right point with 8:03 left in the first period. Falcons goalie Bryan Pitton (19 saves) then stopped Brodie Dupont’s rush off left wing with 5:17 left before Johnson denied Jordan Eberle off a 2-on-1 with 4:53 to go.
The Wolf Pack then resembled the Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s and 1990s in the second period when they outshot the Falcons, 23-11. Kris Newbury converted Potter’s rebound at 47 seconds, then 25 seconds later, Locke backhanded in Dupont’s rebound for his 30th goal of the season to put the Wolf Pack ahead to stay.
Former Wolf Pack defenseman Jake Taylor got a double minor for roughing Locke on the goal, and Jared Nightingale came to Locke’s defense with a right hand that decked Taylor. The Wolf Pack then added insult to injury when Dane Byers’ backhander off Potter’s shot after a deft pass by Locke through the slot made it 3-1 at 3:46.
After Pitton made a split save on Ryan Garlock and denied Donald Brashear in front, Chris McKelvie one-timed a shot under the crossbar off a pass from Newbury to complete a nifty three-way passing play with Byers at 6:23.
The Falcons then called a timeout, but Andres Ambuhl scored his first of the night when he raced down left wing around Liam Reddox and flipped the puck past Pitton at 8:32.
McDonald made it 5-2 with a turnaround shot from 30 feet in the slot with 2:12 left in the second period, but the Wolf Pack scored twice in 1:18 to virtually seal it. Garlock centered to Ambuhl for a quick wrister to the top left corner for a short-handed goal with 1:24 left, then Locke deposited a backhander off a 3-on-1 with 5.6 seconds to go.
“After the first period, we said if you quit playing physically and working, it makes the other team better or braver or what have you, and then they start to take liberties on guys,” Gernander said. “I thought it started even before Locke’s goal. They were kind of targeting him, and if you’re not giving your best effort, it allows the other team to feed off of that. And whether it’s you or a teammate who gets taken advantage of, the only way to stop that is to play your game and really compete.
“Hockey is a hard, demanding game when you’re 100 percent committed and locked in mentally. If, for whatever reason, you let your guard down or you’re emotionally not where you need to be, it’s an almost impossible game. But when the juices got going, we were a much better team.”
Olivier Roy (five saves) replaced Pitton at the start of the third period when the Falcons made it interesting early as Minard deflected in Jeff Petry’s shot on a power play at 4:29 and Colton Fretter scored from the left circle off a cross-crease pass from Rob Hisey at 6:27.
The Falcons got to 7-5 when Matt Beca backhanded in Chris Vande Velde’s rebound after Viacheslav Trukhno’s pass from behind the net with 7:37 left in the game.
But the second period assured the Falcons (24-39-12-4) would have their winless skid extended to 0-5-2-1 and finish last in the league and miss the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season.
“After the first period, we obviously weren’t happy with our play,” Byers said. “We had a very good second period, and it’s human nature to let up a little bit with a little breathing room. But it’s still the AHL, and you can’t give anyone any breathing room.”
Inconsistency was the key reason why the Wolf Pack won’t be in the postseason for the first time.
“We’re obviously disappointed not making the playoffs because that’s every team’s goal and we came up short,” Byers said. “It’s too bad because we’re playing our best hockey of the season right now. But we had a bad month of February, and it came back to haunt us.”