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WBS Weekly: Penguins claim four out of six points to stay in playoff conversation

WBS claims four out of six possible points to stay in the playoff conversation, but there is still much to be done.

Photo by WBS Penguins

Wednesday, March 13: WBS 4 @ Lehigh Valley 1

The WBS Penguins welcomed two new faces into their lineup to open the week, as Jake Lucchini, signed to a one-year entry level contract on Monday then assigned to WBS on a tryout contract, and Trevor Yates, acquired from Grand Rapids back in February, assigned to Wheeling, then promoted to WBS on Monday, joined the forward lines.

One week after dropping a lethargic 3-1 decision to Lehigh Valley on home ice, WBS returned the favor in Allentown, taking a 4-1 decision from the Phantoms. Jimmy Hayes continued his hot streak just 1:53 into the game, as he cleaned up the effort of Joseph Cramarossa for his 12th of the season.

WBS kept the lead through the rest of the first period and all of the second, expanding it to 3-0 in the first period through Ryan Haggerty’s 16th of the year 19 seconds into the third and Hayes’s second of the night (13th of the year) at 8:47 of the third.

Lehigh Valley broke the shutout bid of Tristan Jarry 11:00 into the third through Byron Froese’s 16th of the year, but the proceedings ended well for WBS as Hayes completed the hat trick into an empty Phantoms net just 36 seconds away from full time. With the hat trick, Hayes extended his hot streak to seven goals in seven games, coinciding with the news of his future fatherhood.

Jarry finished a very busy evening with 38 saves on 39 shots, as he is truly rounding into form. His opposing number Alex Lyon finished with 27 saves on 30 shots. Phantoms forward Froese was given third star honors for his goal; Jarry got second; Hayes got top honors.

Saturday, March 16: Providence 1 @ WBS 2 (OT)

The Penguins celebrated St. Patricks Day on Saturday night for the latest version of their biggest game of the season, as they hosted the team they are chasing down for the final playoff spot in the Atlantic Division, the Providence Bruins. After an utterly boring first 30 minutes in which Providence outshot WBS 11-8, WBS started to surge in the back half of the second period, culminating in a 2-on-1 with the new addition Jake Lucchini scoring his first goal for WBS off a Jimmy Hayes rebound. The surge ended with WBS leading in shots 19-14.

The third period was all Providence, as they outshot WBS 21-7 in the final frame and scored the equalizing goal at 9:52 of the third with Ryan Fitzgerald’s 8th of the year. That was all the Bruins could muster, though, as Tristan Jarry threw down another stellar performance, ending with 36 saves on 37 shots and a well deserved first star award.

With the 3-on-3 overtime, WBS was quickly able to take advantage of the open ice, as Adam Johnson took a slick breakaway pass from Ethan Prow, broke in on Providence goalie Zane McIntyre alone, and...

A win’s a win, especially when you set back the team you’re chasing for the playoffs, but Fitzgerald’s goal still stole a valuable point for the Bruins. Lucchini (goal), Johnson (goal), and Jarry were the stars of the night.

Sunday, March 17: Toronto 4 @ WBS 2

Coming into the weekend finale, on the 17th anniversary of the St. Patricks Day Massacre, Tristan Jarry had played the previous 9 games for the WBS Penguins, going 5-2-2 in those nine games but facing an average of 34 shots per game. Sunday was no different, as he faced 37 Toronto Marlies shots, but he could only stop 33 of them as the defending Calder Cup champions spoiled the good feelings of the previous night and dealt WBS another blow in their quest to extend their playoff streak.

Toronto’s goals leader Chris Mueller opened the scoring at 12:49 of the first with his 28th goal of the year on a power play, notable also for Toronto’s scoring leader Jeremy Bracco’s 50th assist of the season, leading the entire AHL. Bracco extended his assist total to 51 at 11:34 of the second by providing the primary assist for Adam Brooks’s 18th of the year, also on a power play.

Jimmy Hayes brought the lead back to 2-1 with his 15th of the year at 14:59 of the second, assisted by Jarry, but Toronto responded in a devastating way with two goals 19 seconds apart in the final minute. Michael Carcone’s 18th of the year and Pierre Engvall’s 17th of the year put the Marlies up 4-1 after 40 minutes.

Jarrett Burton gave a flash of hope at 14:11 of the third with his fifth of the year, but WBS could do no more as they dropped two more crucial points.

Marlies defender Rasmus Sandin recorded three assists for third star honors. Carcone took second star for his goal, which eventually became the game-winner, and Mueller took top honors for his goal and an assist.

The 2-1 week leaves WBS with a record of 30-24-6-3, 69 points, and a points percentage of .548 through 63 games. Ethan Prow continues to lead WBS in scoring with 17 goals and 29 assists in 62 games, with Adam Johnson now at 40 points (18 goals, 22 assists) to lead all forwards. Joseph Blandisi (15 for all teams), Ryan Haggerty (16), Anthony Angello (15), and Jimmy Hayes (15) are the only other Penguins with double digit goals.

Tristan Jarry ends the week with a 2.62 GAA, tied for 17th in the AHL; his save percentage of .917 is tied for 7th best, and his 20 wins are tied for 10th best league-wide.

The Atlantic Division standings as of the games of March 17

  1. Charlotte Checkers - 63 games, 41-15-6-1, 89 points (best in AHL, only team above 70% in points with a .706 percentage)
  2. Bridgeport Sound Tigers - 64 games, 37-20-5-2, 81 points
  3. Hershey Bears - 64 games, 35-22-8-2, 77 points
  4. Providence Bruins - 64 games, 32-22-8-2, 74 points
  5. WBS Penguins - 63 games, 30-24-6-3, 69 points
  6. Lehigh Valley Phantoms - 64 games, 31-27-3-3, 68 points
  7. Springfield Thunderbirds - 65 games, 27-26-7-5, 66 points
  8. Hartford Wolf Pack - 66 games, 28-29-6-3, 65 points

The magic number for the Penguins is now 30, a decrease of five from last week’s 35 with WBS earning four out of a possible six points this week and Providence dropping only the overtime point to WBS last week.

The Penguins will next see Providence on Wednesday, March 27, which is the last meeting of the season between the two. Until then, Providence has three games this upcoming week: March 20 at Laval, March 22 vs. Belleville, March 23 vs. Binghamton. WBS, meanwhile, will temporarily earn back its game in hand on Providence with four games this week: Tuesday, March 19 at Hershey, Friday, March 22 vs. Lehigh Valley, Saturday, March 23 at Lehigh Valley, then Sunday, March 24 vs. Springfield.

Despite what you might hear from the team, WBS does not have its playoff destiny in its own hands. Even if they win out and claim the remaining 26 points available to them, they can only directly deny Providence two points by virtue of the remaining meeting between the two, which comes two short of the 30 required. So for right now, WBS must continue to take care of its own business and hope for some help from the rest of the Atlantic Division.