Wednesday, March 27: Providence 0 @ WBS 2
Despite an hour’s delay on Wednesday night due to a transformer problem, the WBS Penguins opened their last relatively light week of the season with a massive matchup against the team they are chasing down for playoff position in the Atlantic Division, the Providence Bruins. ATO signee Jake Lucchini, who has provided a very good breath of fresh air on the lower lines since joining the squad, scored his second goal of the season 7:17 into the first period to give WBS a 1-0 advantage.
WBS goaltender Tristan Jarry, who one could certainly argue is mostly responsible for WBS staying in the playoff hunt for as long as they have, needed no other assistance on this night, as he shut down all 23 Bruins shots he faced. Sam Miletic entered double digits in goals on the season with his 10th at 6:21 of the third to solidify a massive two points.
The win, plus the denial of two points to Providence, dropped the magic number for the Penguins to clinch the playoffs to 20, and it brought WBS to within three points of the Bruins for the playoffs.
Lucchini (third) and Miletic (second) took stars for their goals, while the top performer of the night was Jarry with his first shutout of the season and his first in nearly two years.
POSTGAME HIGHLIGHTS - Tristan Jarry comes up big between the pipes, turning aside 23 shots to record his first shutout of the season, as the #WBSPens defeated the @AHLBruins 2-0. Jake Lucchini and Sam Miletic netted the goals for the Penguins. pic.twitter.com/mkKv64YsX7— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) March 28, 2019
Saturday, March 30: Springfield 4 @ WBS 1
A couple of new faces in the lineup tonight. Welcome to Wilkes-Barre Christopher Brown and Chase Berger. pic.twitter.com/zY774VtQae— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) March 30, 2019
Providence restored its lead over WBS to five points with a 3-2 victory in Syracuse on Friday, so WBS once again had to come through on Saturday against Springfield to keep pace. WBS welcomed two additional ATO signings to its roster on Star Wars/Boy Scout night in the form of Boston College’s Christopher Brown and Penn State’s Chase Berger, meaning that in the desperate throes of a playoff race, three of WBS’s 12 forwards were college signings.
There was a lot of hype and buzz in the building on Saturday, as the familiar and popular strains of John Williams’s classic Star Wars themes echoed throughout the building during pregame, and storm troopers and Darth Vader himself stood guard over the proceedings.
We have a few visitors. I imagine they had a long commute to secure this place for tonight. pic.twitter.com/N0944a1Jrj— DS (@dps2002) March 30, 2019
Unfortunately, once the puck dropped, the team did not, in any way, live up to the buzz of the evening.
Despite being out-shot 35-30 on the night (and I still have no idea how that happened), Springfield seemed to press WBS at every opportunity throughout the game, only allowing WBS a precious few opportunities to set up anything of considerable danger and getting goals from Vincent Praplan at 19:09 of the first and Adam Rockwood at 1:55 of the second to open a 2-0 lead.
Ryan Haggerty seemed to spring some life into his team at 7:23 of the second with his 20th of the season, joining Teddy Blueger in the 20-goal club, to cut the deficit to 2-1.
Much to my chagrin, however, WBS could not get anything else, as starting goalie Chris Driedger stopped the remaining 34 shots he faced for his 14th win of the season, and former Penguin Harry Zolnierczyk (15) and Alex Breton (1) added goals in the third period to hand WBS a stunning 4-1 defeat. Between three ATO signings (none of which looked particularly bad, I might add; the line of Berger, Cam Brown, and Brown looked to be WBS’s strongest in the first period, and Berger got some power play time in the third) and losing Angello and Riikola to some knocks, WBS just did not have it when they needed it most.
The defeat was made even more painful by the fact that just down the highway, at GIANT Center, Devante Smith-Pelley and Joe Snively scored in the third period to give the Hershey Bears a 2-1 victory over the Providence Bruins. It was a perfect opportunity to put some real pressure on Providence for that last spot, to close within three points and hold a game in hand, but Springfield absolutely snuffed it out.
Haggerty took third star with his goal, but Harry Zolnierczyk (one goal, one assist) and Adam Rockwood (one goal, two assists) took the top honors, which inexplicably didn’t bolster Rockwood’s case with the Florida/Springfield organization as he was reportedly released on Sunday.
The harsh loss drops WBS to 33-26-7-3 on the season, with 76 points. As noted above, Haggerty’s 20th of the season on Saturday joins him with Blueger as WBS’s 20-goal scorers and also gives him the active team lead, with the promoted Adam Johnson on 18 goals, Ethan Prow at 17, and Joseph Blandisi (combined) and Anthony Angello at 16. Also in double digits are Jimmy Hayes (15), Sam Lafferty (11), and Miletic (10). Prow still leads in overall points with 46, with the combined 41 points of Blandisi second place at 41 and Haggerty at 39 among active players.
Jarry ends the week with a record of 22-14-8, a GAA of 2.60 that was 17th in the AHL when I wrote this, and a save percentage of .918 that was tied for seventh in the AHL. Among qualified goalies, Jarry has faced the third-most shots in the AHL at 1,395, and he also has the third-most saves in the AHL this season with 1,280.
The Atlantic Division standings as of the games of March 31
- Charlotte Checkers (clinched playoffs): 70 games played, 46-16-7-1, 100 points
- Bridgeport Sound Tigers: 70 games played, 40-21-6-3, 89 points
- Hershey Bears: 69 games played, 38-24-3-4, 83 points
- Providence Bruins: 70 games played, 35-24-8-3, 81 points
- WBS Penguins: 69 games played, 33-26-7-3, 76 points
- Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 69 games played, 34-28-4-3, 75 points
- Springfield Thunderbirds: 70 games played, 29-27-9-5, 72 points
- Hartford Wolf Pack: 70 games played, 28-32-7-3, 66 points
The magic number for the Penguins to clinch the playoffs is now down to 18, a reduction of six from last week, as WBS beat Providence on Wednesday, then Providence lost in regulation on Saturday. WBS can still get 14 points out of their remaining seven games, but they still need some more Providence help to get in.
WBS will play its game in hand over Providence on Tuesday, as they will visit the Bridgeport Sound Tigers at 10:30 a.m. EDT April 2. From there, it’s the first of two straight 3-in-3s to close out the season, as WBS hosts Binghamton on Friday, April 5, at 7:05 p.m. EDT, then visits Lehigh Valley for their final two games of the season against the Phantoms, first on Saturday, April 6, at 7:05 p.m. EDT, then again on Sunday, April 7, at 3:05 p.m.
Meanwhile, Providence will also play two straight 3-in-3s to end the season. Their first 3-in-3 has them hosting second place Bridgeport on Friday, then visiting Bridgeport on Saturday, then hosting Utica on Sunday.
One way or another, once we get to Friday, there will be no more games in hand — just six games left to play as April opens and WBS still sits outside the playoff picture.