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WBS Weekly: WBS inches ever closer to the playoffs

On the heels of two one-goal home victories, WBS enters the week 6 points away from clinching a return to the Calder Cup playoffs.

The WBS Penguins salute their home supporters after defeating Hershey in overtime on Friday night, 3-2.
Photo taken by me

Wednesday, April 13: Charlotte 4 @ WBS 1

The WBS Penguins opened up a three game in four day stretch on Wednesday night against the then-new Atlantic Division leaders, the Charlotte Checkers. It was a tough test for the Penguins, and unfortunately they did not exactly pass it.

Two former Lehigh Valley Phantoms, German Rubtsov and Connor Bunnaman, scored their first goals for Charlotte on Wednesday against WBS to power a 4-1 victory. Also scoring for the Checkers were Zac Dalpe, whose 29th goal of the year at 1:56 of the first opened the proceedings; and Alexander True, whose 18th of the season into an empty net with 1:12 to go finished the proceedings.

The only bright spot was Filip Hållander, whose shorthanded goal at 8:57 of the second provided WBS’s only offense. It was only the third shorthanded goal for WBS on the season, and it was Hållander’s 11th goal of the season.

Louis Domingue stopped 25 of 28 shots in the WBS net in the losing effort, while Joey Daccord stopped 27 of 28 WBS shots for his 18th win of the season. Neither power play was able to convert: Charlotte in four chances, WBS in five chances.

Friday, April 15: Hershey 2 @ WBS 3 (OT)

The Hershey Bears then came to town on Friday night for the 11th meeting of the season between the I-81 rivals. WBS, owning a 2-7-1 record against the Bears coming into the game, showed no fear out of the gate, as they handily controlled the first five minutes of play. They were rewarded with perhaps a bit of fortune at 4:54 of the first, as Kasper Bjorkqvist scored his 8th goal of the season…and possibly his softest.

Hershey goaltender Zach Fucale surely would like that one back. Jordy Bellerive moved to 20 assists on the season with the primary assist, while Cam Lee got the second assist.

The goal seemed to spark Hershey, as they took control of the game back following the goal. With Bellerive in the penalty box for slashing, the NCAA’s leading men’s goal scorer from this past season, Ethen Frank, scored his first professional goal for the Bears at 10:48 of the first to tie the game.

The game stayed tied 1-1 until the third period, when Mason Morelli scored his 12th of the season at 8:49 of the third, also on a power play. WBS thought they had tied the game a few minutes later through Filip Hållander, but despite his best efforts, Hållander was unable to touch the puck with his stick after gloving it down to the ice. The puck trickled into the net, and the goal was denied.

WBS would not be denied, though, in the final minutes with starting goaltender Tommy Nappier on the bench. Radim Zohorna scored his 8th of the season at 17:59 of the third to register the Penguins’ 10th extra attacker goal of the season and tie the game at 2.

In overtime, the Penguins were the beneficiaries of a very generous penalty call, as Brett Leason was whistled for tripping Sam Poulin at center ice even though it looked like Poulin mostly tripped over his own stick. The Penguins took full advantage of their good fortune.

That’s Valtteri Puustinen’s team-leading 19th goal of the season to give WBS a huge 3-2 overtime victory over the Bears.

Nappier finished with 28 saves on 30 shots, including two early in overtime, to take his 10th win of the season. Fucale finished with 35 saves on 38 shots in the losing effort. Juuso Riikola and Alex Nylander also stood out for the Penguins with two assists each. The Hershey power play finished 2 for 3 on the evening, while the WBS power play ended 1 for 4.

Saturday, April 16: Bridgeport 5 @ WBS 6

Just as they did two weeks ago, the Bridgeport Islanders came out of the gates with authority in WBS, scoring the first two goals through Simon Holmstrom and Michael Dal Cole. Just as they did two weeks ago, WBS responded with the next four goals, as Felix Robert (16), Filip Hållander (12), Valtteri Puustinen (20), and Mitch Reinke (3) staked WBS to a 4-2 lead at 8:18 of the second period.

Unlike two weeks ago, where WBS eventually tacked on a total of 9 against the Islanders, Bridgeport tried to make a stand. Chris Terry scored his 29th of the season at 10:18 of the second on a power play to bring the Islanders back to 4-3. WBS then responded with the next two through Michael Chaput’s 11th of the season on a power play and Drew O’Connor’s 12th of the year. Holmstrom scored his second of the night at 19:49 of the second, also on a power play, to end a fireworks-filled second period 6-4 to WBS.

The Penguins were able to hold the fort from there, despite Paul LaDue’s 4th of the season at 13:49 of the third. When all was said and done, defender Juuso Riikola had registered a career-high four assists to bring him to 33 on the season, well deserving of the game’s top honors.

Tommy Nappier, in net again for WBS, finished with only 17 saves on 22 shots, but it was enough on this night. For Bridgeport, veteran Cory Schneider finished with 28 saves on 34 shots in the losing effort. The Bridgeport power play finished 2 for 6, while the WBS power play finished 1 for 3.

Atlantic Division standings, through the games of April 17:

  1. Providence Bruins (clinched playoffs): 65 games played, 7 to go, 35-20-4-6, .615 points percentage
  2. Charlotte Checkers (clinched playoffs): 70 games played, 2 to go, 40-24-5-1, .614
  3. Springfield Thunderbirds (clinched playoffs): 70 games played, 6 to go, 39-23-6-2, .614
  4. WBS Penguins: 70 games played, 6 to go, 33-29-6-4, .529
  5. Hershey Bears: 72 games played, 4 to go, 33-29-6-4, .528
  6. Bridgeport Islanders: 70 games played, 2 to go, 30-29-7-4, .507
  7. Hartford Wolf Pack: 69 games played, 3 to go, 30-31-6-2, .493
  8. Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 70 games played, 6 to go, 27-30-8-5, .479

Statistics, powered by HockeyDB:

Bolstered by his four-assist game on Saturday, Juuso Riikola now ranks 7th among all AHL defenders with 33 assists. His 34 points ties him for 16th among AHL defenders.

As of the morning of Sunday, April 17, the magic number for WBS to clinch a return to the Calder Cup playoffs was down to 6 points, with 6 games left to play. The first of the remaining six is this Tuesday, April 19, as WBS closes out the home half of its schedule against the Hershey Bears at 7:05 pm EDT.

Then, it’s on the road to New England for three games in 48 hours. Providence is first up on Friday, April 22, start time 7:05 pm EDT. Second on the docket is Springfield on Saturday, April 23, start time 6:05 pm EDT. To close out the weekend, WBS heads up to the badly slumping Hartford Wolf Pack on Sunday, April 24, start time 3:00 pm EDT, for Hartford’s season finale.