HAMILTON - It took the Hamilton Bulldogs nearly 10 periods to find a goal, but once they rediscovered their scoring touch their goaltender guided them the rest of the way.
Robert Mayer made 35 saves as the Hamilton Bulldogs defeated the Rockford IceHogs 3-1 in the American Hockey League on Friday.
Hamilton head coach Sylvain Lefebvre singled out Mayer's performance for praise, alongside that of his special teams units.
"The guys battled hard tonight," said Lefebvre. "Robert Mayer was solid in net and made some big saves at key times.
"We came up with big goals and the power play came up big as well. The penalty kill did a good job, and if you win the special teams battle, more often than not you win the game."
Gabriel Dumont, Patrick Holland and Olivier Fortier added goals for the Bulldogs (12-18-3), who snapped a three-game losing streak — in which they failed to score a single goal — in their return to home ice.
The visitors got on the board early in the first when defenceman Shawn Lalonde's wrist shot from the point bounced to Smith, who quickly gathered the puck and shot it past Mayer from in tight at 1:53.
A lively bounce off the end boards nearly doubled the IceHogs' lead minutes later, as the puck took a quick deflection and ended up at Mayer's near post.
Hamilton's Michael Bournival was gifted a chance to score with 10 minutes remaining in the first when a Rockford giveaway put the puck directly on the forward's stick with a clear path to goal. But Richards produced an sharp split save to foil the break and preserve the IceHogs' lead.
The Bulldogs looked set to conclude their 10th-consecutive period without a goal as the first wound to a close. But Mike Blunden cycled the puck to the point, and a Dumont slapshot was tipped in by Holland with milliseconds remaining on the clock to end Hamilton's scoreless drought.
Holland believed that the goal was the culmination of a strong all-around shift from his line to conclude the period.
"We had a really good shift there and were putting on a lot of pressure," he said. "I felt like I had a goal earlier in the shift and I managed to hit the post.
"I think (the goal) was going in without my tip, but I'll gladly touch it. I think it was pretty close to the buzzer, but I'm fortunate that it went in and it really helped the team."
Dumont added that the streak-busting goal was a confidence booster for the previously slumping Bulldogs.
"Especially getting that goal to tie it with 0.1 seconds left in that period, it was really a good feeling for us," said Dumont. "It was good to get out of that slump.
"We always make it a little hard on ourselves, but we found a way out of that bad streak."
Bournival once again squandered a golden opportunity two minutes into the second period.
He and defenceman Frederic St. Denis skated in on a two-on-one break, with St. Denis floating a pass over the stick of the reaching Rockford defender that Bournival could not properly corral.
The hosts took the lead at 17:11 of the second with a rare power-play goal. Rockford's Jimmy Hayes had served 57 seconds of his tripping minor when Dumont set up in front of the IceHogs' net and deflected a St. Denis point shot past Richards for his second point of the game.
The Bulldogs' lead swelled at 5:51 of the third, as Fortier proved opportunistic in front of goal.
Hamilton held the puck in Rockford's end immediately following a power play, and Philippe Lefebvre shovelled an unremarkable shot toward the net from the right circle that caught Richards flat-footed. The goaltender sent a heavy rebound into the slot, and Fortier alertly collected the puck and fired it into the gaping net.
The Bulldogs' head coach was impressed by the approach that led his team to find the back of the net on Friday, a willingness to crash the net that he believed to be a must.
"We can't get away from what we do best, and that's what we do best," said Lefebvre. "We get to the net and take the puck there. We crash and bang.
"That's our team. That's our identity."