Sean Backman’s two goals proved to be the difference as the Bridgeport Sound Tigers defeated the Manchester Monarchs 4-1 Saturday at Webster Bank Arena. Anders Nilsson made 31 saves in goal for the Sound Tigers, who have won all three matchups against the Monarchs this season by a combined score of 13-3. The Sound Tigers have won three straight overall dating back to Dec. 26, and improve to 16-12-1-2 (35 points). With the loss, the Monarchs drop to 14-14-2-2 (32 points).
After the game, Sound Tigers Head Coach Scott Pellerin commented on the team’s success against Manchester this season.
“We want to play with that same style and energy that we did tonight,” Pellerin said. “We’ve played well in the three games against Manchester. Tonight they pushed back and put us against a wall, but Anders was able to keep the puck out of the net.”
With the score tied 1-1 late in the middle frame, Backman scored to give the Sound Tigers a 2-1 lead. Chad Costello made a pass from behind the Manchester goal to Mike Halmo, whose shot from down low was stopped by Manchester goalie Martin Jones. The rebound pinballed off a Monarchs defenseman and Backman swooped in and found the open net at 17:30.
Backman, inserted into the game in place of the suspended Brett Gallant, took advantage of the opportunity to play for the first time since Dec. 19, lighting the lamp twice. The winger had one goal and three assists in 23 games before Saturday.
“I guess you could say my legs were rested,” Backman said. “I felt good out there. I try to work hard every night I’m out on the ice and chip in where I can. Tonight, luckily I had two.”
Just over a minute later, Casey Cizikas’ ninth goal of the season made the score 3-1. Cizikas received a saucer pass from Brandon DeFazio during a 2-on-1 attack and had a clean path to the Monarchs goal. His shot beat Jones five-hole, giving the Sound Tigers a 3-1 lead heading into the third.
Fourteen of Nilsson’s 31 saves came during the third period, when the Sound Tigers were playing with the lead.
“Anders needed a game like that,” Pellerin said. “Manchester is a high-skilled hockey team. They’re probably one of the better teams we’ve seen this year in regard to making plays off the rush. It really caused us some problems. They had some Grade A chances in the slot that Anders was able to make first and second saves, so it was a big night for him. I’m happy for his performance.”
Backman opened the scoring just 1:39 into the first period. After taking a pass off the boards from Halmo, the second-year Sound Tiger skated down the left wing and backhanded the puck from a hard angle over Jones’ shoulder. The Monarchs countered seven minutes later when Tyler Toffoli one-timed a centering feed past Nilsson to make the score 1-1.
Bridgeport entered Saturday night’s game with 756 penalty minutes, more than any team in the American Hockey League, but stayed out of the penalty box until 5:06 of the third period when Nilsson was called for slashing. The Sound Tigers killed off the ensuing man advantage, and have held opponents scoreless in 26-of-27 power plays dating back to Dec. 15 at Norfolk.
Skating on a man advantage with a 3-1 lead midway through the third, Nino Niederreiter redirected a Ty Wishart shot over Jones’ right shoulder for his team-leading 16th tally of the season, giving the Sound Tigers a three-goal cushion.
The Sound Tigers play their last game of the 2012 calendar year on Monday, Dec. 31, when they travel to Glens Falls, NY to take on the Adirondack Phantoms. Puck drop is scheduled for 3:00 p.m.
Notes: The Monarchs outshot the Sound Tigers 32-29 … The Sound Tigers were called for just one penalty, their lowest single-game total of the 2012-13 season … The previous low was six … The Sound Tigers rank third in the AHL at 21.1% on the power play, and fourth in the AHL at home with a 23.9% success ra at Webster Bank Arena … Defenseman Dallas Jackson, who was signed earlier in the day to a PTO, made his AHL season debut after appearing in 31 games with the ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators
Three Stars 1. BRI: Sean Backman 2. BRI: Anders Nilsson 3. BRI: Mike Halmo
Bridgeport Sound Tigers Forwards 23 John Persson – 11 Casey Cizikas – 13 Colin McDonald 24 David Ullstrom – 28 Johan Sundstrom – 22 Nino Niederreiter 40 Mike Halmo – 14 Matt Watkins – 16 Sean Backman 42 Brandon DeFazio – 18 Chad Costello – 20 Blair Riley
Defensemen 46 Matt Donovan – 6 Ty Wishart 27 Aaron Ness – 25 Jordan Hill 2 Dallas Jackson - 7 Jon Landry
Goaltenders 45 Anders Nilsson (starter) 38 Kevin Poulin
Manchester Monarchs Forwards 21 Dwight King – 18 Andrei Loktionov – 15 Brandon Kozun 16 Stefan Legein – 22 Marc-Andre Cliche – 27 Robert Czarnik 14 Tanner Pearson – 9 Linden Vey – 26 Tyler Toffoli 13 Richard Clune – 12 Andy Andreoff – 44 Jordan Nolan
Defensemen 2 Andrew Campbell – 76 Slava Voynov 7 Andrew Bodnarchuk – 6 David Kolomatis 3 Jake Muzzin – 37 Thomas Hickey
Goaltenders 31 Martin Jones (starter) 33 Peter Mannino