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WBS Weekly: Time is running out on sixth place Penguins

A superhero comeback on Marvel Night gives the Penguins a split of the points on their three-game home-stand.

Photo by WBS Penguins

Wednesday, March 6: Lehigh Valley 3 @ WBS 1

The Penguins opened their three-game home stand this week with a midweek engagement against their longtime rivals, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, who also just so happened to be one of the teams they are chasing for a playoff spot. The second fact, probably more so than the first, probably makes the result of the game, 3-1 to the Phantoms, hurt much, much more.

Listening on radio, it never really felt like WBS was ever in this game. Lehigh Valley opened the scoring at 11:25 of the first period on a controversial sequence. Roughly two minutes before, WBS defender Kevin Czuczman looked to open the scoring himself, but was instead called for charging.

Lehigh Valley proceeded to convert the ensuing power play through Connor Bunnaman’s 15th of the season.

Though Adam Johnson tied the game with his 17th of the year at 1:55 of the second.

Lehigh Valley’s Pascal Laberge scored his first pro goal just over two minutes later to put the Phantoms back ahead 2-1.

WBS could get no closer, and Lehigh Valley added insurance late in the third with Byron Froese’s 15th of the year.

Tristan Jarry started all three games in net for WBS this week, and on Wednesday he finished with 31 saves on 34 shots, which was not enough against Alex Lyon’s 27 saves on 28 shots. Lyon took third star, Phantoms forward Mikhail Vorobyev assisted on two goals for second star, and Laberge took top honors.

Friday, March 8: Hartford 3 @ WBS 2 (SO)

WBS’s stumbles continued into their Friday game, 70s Night, against the last-place Hartford Wolf Pack. Even though Joseph Cramarossa scored his third goal of the season at 14:14 of the first, Hartford racked up two in the second through Drew Melanson’s first of the year and Ryan Gropp’s eight of the year on a power play.

It was only through Ethan Prow’s 17th goal of the season on a power play in the third period that got WBS to overtime; the goal moved Prow into fifth place all time for goals in a season in WBS franchise history. Only Ross Lupaschuk, Micki Dupont (18 each), Sven Butenschon (19), and WBS Hall of Famer John Slaney (30) have scored more from the blue line in a single season.

The game moved to a shootout, where Hartford’s Bobby Butler scored the only goal and Hartford goaltender Brandon Halverson was the first to stop Cramarossa in the shootout this season to clinch the win and deny WBS a valuable standings point. Halverson finished with 39 saves on 41 shots for his second win over WBS in six days, while Jarry finished with 27 saves on 29 shots in the losing effort.

Prow’s goal earned him the third star, Jarry earned the second star, and Butler took top honors.

Saturday, March 9: Syracuse 3 @ WBS 4 (OT)

Whether coincidence or very good planning, WBS celebrated the superheroes of Marvel on Saturday night, the same weekend as the Marvel Cinematic Universe continued its story with the debut of Captan Marvel. It would take a super-heroic effort to dispatch the North Division leading Syracuse Crunch, which WBS certainly did not deliver in the first period as the Crunch outshot WBS 17-5, outscored them 2-0 (Ross Colton’s 12th and former WBS Penguin Cameron Gaunce’s 10th), and generally skated them out of the rink in possibly the worst 20 minutes I’ve seen WBS play this season.

Syracuse’s momentum persisted into the second period, but slowly, WBS started to turn the game in its favor, starting with Linus Olund’s sixth of the year at 11:40 of the second. In the third, with Alex Volkov in the penalty box for slashing, Joseph Blandisi scored his 15th of the year to improbably tie the game at 2-2.

Then came possibly the weirdest sequence of the season. It began with Jarry being tripped behind his net as WBS was sprinting away on a rush. With players coming together behind the play risking a stoppage, WBS took several shots on net against a downed Syracuse goaltender Martin Ouellette, but none went in, and on the ensuing breakout rush, Volkov dished to Ross Colton for Colton’s second of the night, 13th of the season, and a 3-2 Crunch lead at 12:27 of the third.

To their credit, WBS did not surrender. With Gaunce in the box for tripping, WBS’s Jimmy Hayes tied the game at 14:36 of the third to send the game to overtime, where Sam Miletic flashed Stormbreaker to win the game.

...Well, perhaps not the axe of Thor, but Miletic did score his eighth of the year at 1:34 of overtime to give WBS a crucial second point.

The scoreline says Jarry finished with 34 saves on 37 shots, but that doesn’t really go into enough detail to properly describe how Jarry kept WBS in the game after going down 2-0. That he did not get a star on this night is criminal, such was his performance, and I’m pretty sure my colleagues over at Raw Charge would agree with me on this point. (Go check out Raw Charge’s recap of this game here.) The stars ended up going to Colton, Hayes, and Miletic.

The Penguins finished the week with a record of 28-23-6-3, good for 65 points and a points percentage of .542. Prow and Johnson tie for the active team lead in goals with 17, with Blandisi (combined), Ryan Haggerty, and Anthony Angello at 15 each, though Angello is goalless in his last 12 outings. Prow’s 43 points tie him for fourth in the AHL among defenders, only four behind the league leader Zach Redmond.

In all honesty, I think Prow is ready for the big show. I think he can help in Pittsburgh, should an opportunity present itself down the stretch.

Full Atlantic Division standings after all the March 10 games:

  1. Charlotte Checkers: 61 games played, 39-15-6-1, 83 points (still best in the AHL, but only 4 points ahead of Syracuse and 0.027 percentage points ahead of Bakersfield in the Pacific Division)
  2. Bridgeport Sound Tigers: 61 games played, 35-19-5-2, 77 points (8-1-1 in last 10)
  3. Hershey Bears: 61 games played, 33-22-2-4, 72 points
  4. Providence Bruins: 62 games played, 31-22-7-2, 71 points
  5. Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 61 games played, 30-25-3-3, 66 points
  6. WBS Penguins: 60 games played, 28-23-6-3, 65 points
  7. Springfield Thunderbirds: 62 games played, 26-24-7-5, 64 points
  8. Hartford Wolf Pack: 63 games played, 26-28-6-3, 61 points

At the end of last week, WBS’s magic number to clinch the playoffs was 40. We still need to look at Providence for calculation of the magic number, as they are still the fourth team in.

WBS claimed three points on the week to knock three off their number, but Providence only dropped two after taking a pair of games from Hershey to start the weekend, then dropping their weekend finale to Springfield 3-1 on Sunday. Therefore, the WBS number to clinch the playoffs drops to 35, with Providence now at a maximum possible points of 99 and WBS needing to surpass that to overcome losing the regulation/overtime wins tiebreaker.

WBS will not be able to make up its games in hand over Hershey (hosting Springfield, Toronto, and Bridgeport this week) or Lehigh Valley (hosting WBS, Providence, and Toronto this week), but they will have a chance to make up a game on Providence, who will only visit Lehigh Valley and WBS this week.

WBS’s full schedule for this week: Wednesday, March 13 at Lehigh Valley, 7:05 p.m. EDT start; Saturday, March 16 vs. Providence (annual St. Patricks Day game), 7:05 p.m. EDT start; Sunday, March 17 vs. Toronto, 3:05 p.m. EDT

With only 16 games to go, time is most certainly running out on the WBS Penguins and their chances to extend their playoff streak. They need to show a lot more of the heart and desire that they showed to come back against Syracuse than they did against Lehigh Valley or Hartford if they want to continue beyond April 14.