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WBS Weekly: Penguins drop two decisions at rival Lehigh Valley, stare down elimination

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After two victories, WBS drops two decisions at its rival Lehigh Valley to stare down elimination from the playoffs for the first time in 17 years.

Photo by WBS Penguins

Tuesday, April 2: WBS 3 @ Bridgeport 1

WBS opened this past week with their third and final weekday morning start of the season, visiting the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, who at the start of the week was still attempting to punch its own ticket to the Calder Cup playoffs. WBS flew out of the gates, scoring 3 goals in the first 6:33 of the contest, with Ryan Haggerty scoring his 21st and 22nd goals of the season between the first professional goal for Penn State’s Chase Berger. Jeff Kubiak for Bridgeport scored on the power play at 8:49 of the third to break Tristan Jarry’s shutout attempt, but that’s all they could muster as WBS claimed two points from its game in hand over Providence.

Kubiak got third star for his goal, Berger second for his goal, Haggerty top honors for his pair.

Friday, April 5: Binghamton 0 @ WBS 4

Bolstered by the ATO signings of St. Cloud State defender Jon Lizotte, Shawinigan Cataractes forward Jan Drozg, Northeastern University forward Brandon Hawkins, defender Calen Addison and forward Jordy Bellerive from the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes, and goaltender Alex D’Orio (formerly of Saint John and Baie-Comeau of the QMJHL), WBS hosted the Binghamton Devils for, incredibly, their first visit of the season. Binghamton has had a rough go of it this season, doomed to last place in the North Division and the Eastern Conference, and WBS took advantage in a 4-0 shutout performance for John Muse. Chris Summers, Sam Lafferty, Joseph Blandisi, and Hawkins scored the goals, while Muse stopped 33 shots for his second clean sheet for WBS this season and his personal sixth straight victory.

Unfortunately, WBS could not claim any ground on Providence, as the Bruins took a barnstorming 8-6 decision over Bridgeport to maintain their 3-point lead.

Saturday, April 6: WBS 2 @ Lehigh Valley 4

The effort put forward by WBS against Binghamton, while enough to beat a last-place team, would not be enough to survive at a team of the caliber of Lehigh Valley, so WBS had no other choice but to improve its performance. It didn’t appear as though WBS would do that at the start, with Tyrell Goulbourne and Cole Bardreau (shorthanded) scoring to put LV up 2-0 at the 16:01 mark of the first.

WBS responded quickly to Bardreau’s goal, with Ryan Haggerty scoring his 23rd of the year on the same power play on which Bardreau scored his shorthanded goal.

Then, the turning point of the game. On a delayed penalty call, Adam Johnson appeared to split through a pair of defenders and beat Lehigh Valley goaltender Alex Lyon clean for the tying goal, but inexplicably, the referee blew the play dead before the puck crossed the goal line.

Take a look for yourself.

The goal was not given, and on the ensuing power play, Cole Bardreau scored his second shorthanded goal of the game to put Lehigh Valley up 3-1.

Despite ultimately outshooting the Phantoms 35-23 on the night, WBS could not make a comeback, as Byron Froese’s 20th of the year and Brandon Hawkins’s 2nd goal in as many games provided the final 4-2 score. Lyon stopped 33 of 35 shots for third star, Froese took second with a goal and an assist, and Bardreau’s pair of shorthanded goals took top honors.

The only saving grace for WBS on the evening was Bridgeport recovering from its loss the previous night to take a 4-3 decision from Providence to keep the WBS deficit at 3 points and clinch a playoff spot for themselves.

Sunday, April 7: WBS 6 @ Lehigh Valley 10

WBS had to recover quickly, as they were right back at it in Allentown to close the week. As you could probably tell from the score line, this one was wild.

WBS struck fast, hard, and repeatedly to start the game, with Jake Lucchini and Sam Miletic scoring twice in the first 1:02 of the game, but Lehigh Valley took those opening shots and responded with a series of repeated haymakers, taking an outrageous 7 of the next 8 goals scored in the game. Greg Carey first, Chris Conner twice, Connor Bunnaman, Corban Knight, Carsen Twarynski, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, and David Kase all scored in a span of about 37 minutes, all but overwhelming the first pro goal for Jon Lizotte. Tristan Jarry only survived the first 20 minutes, giving up four goals before he was replaced by John Muse.

WBS started a comeback at 8-3, with Chris Summers, Jake Lucchini, and Ethan Prow all scoring to bring the Penguins back to 8-6, but they could get no closer as Twarynski scored on a penalty shot at 17:31 of the third, then Colin McDonald scored an empty-netter at 18:44 to become the second team in WBS’s 20-year history to put up double digits on the Penguins (Rochester was the first).

When all was said and done, Philippe Myers took third star for his three assists, Carsen Twarynski took second honors for his two goals, and Chris Conner took top honors for his two goals and an assist.

To compound WBS’s misery out of Allentown, their loss clinched a playoff spot for the Hershey Bears, who were the AHL’s worst team just before Christmas and now find themselves in third position in the Atlantic with a chance to climb up to second by season’s end. Furthermore, Paul Carey broke a 1-1 tie against Utica with his 26th goal of the season at 7:13 of the third, then Anton Blidh scored his 9th of the season into an empty net at 18:23 of the third to give Providence a 3-1 victory over the Comets. That win extended their lead over WBS to five points with 3 games to play and dropped their magic number for clinching the Atlantic’s final playoff spot to only one point, having long ago clinched the first tiebreaker (regulation/overtime wins) over WBS.

The Penguins ended the week with a record of 35-28-7-3 and 80 points, now guaranteed to break their streak of 40-win seasons with only 3 games to play.

Ethan Prow still leads the Penguins in scoring with 18 goals and 31 points in 71 games. Just behind him is Ryan Haggerty, taking the overall team lead from the promoted Teddy Blueger with 23 goals and tying rookie Sam Lafferty (12 + 32) with 44 points. Joseph Blandisi has a combined 43 points this season (17 + 26), with Adam Johnson at 42 (18 + 24).

After a torrid March, Tristan Jarry’s bad weekend brought his GAA down to 2.66 on the year, 18th in the AHL, and his save percentage down to .915, 14th in the league among qualifying goaltenders.

The Atlantic Division standings, with one week to go:

  1. Charlotte Checkers (clinched Kilpatrick Trophy for AHL’s best regular season record): 74 games played, 49-17-7-1, 106 points
  2. Bridgeport Sound Tigers (clinched playoff berth): 73 games played, 41-23-6-3, 91 points
  3. Hershey Bears (clinched playoff berth): 72 games played, 40-25-3-4, 87 points
  4. Providence Bruins: 73 games played, 37-25-8-3, 85 points (magic number 1 to clinch playoffs)
  5. WBS Penguins: 73 games played, 35-28-7-3, 80 points (magic number 12 to clinch playoffs)
  6. Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 73 games played, 36-30-4-3, 79 points (magic number 13 to clinch playoffs, must then win tiebreaker with Providence)
  7. Springfield Thunderbirds: 73 games played, 31-28-9-5, 76 points (eliminated)
  8. Hartford Wolf Pack: 73 games played, 29-34-7-3, 68 points (eliminated)

Technically, WBS’s playoff hopes are still alive, but they need everything to go their way on the final weekend. They have a 3 in 3 to close their 20th season, visiting Utica on Friday, April 12, at 7:00 pm EDT, then coming home to entertain Bridgeport on Saturday, April 13 at 7:05 pm for Fan Appreciation Night, then hosting Binghamton on April 14 at 3:05 pm for the team awards and jerseys off the back giveaway. Providence hosts Lehigh Valley on Friday at 7:05 pm EDT, then contest a home and home with Springfield to close the season.

WBS can still take the final playoff spot if they take all 6 points remaining for them and Providence gets nothing else down the stretch. Anything else, and for the first time since 2002, the top affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins will see their season end before the playoffs.