The Bridgeport Sound Tigers overcame a two-goal deficit and Anders Nilsson made 16 saves to beat the Connecticut Whale 4-3 Sunday at Webster Bank Arena. The Sound Tigers have won three straight and improve to 8-3-0-0 (16 points), tying the Springfield Falcons for the Northeast Division lead. With the loss, the Whale drop to 5-6-1-0 (11 points).
The game wasn’t scoreless for long, as former New York Islander and Bridgeport Sound Tiger Micheal Haley put the Whale up 1-0 just 28 seconds into the contest. Following a turnover in the Bridgeport zone, Marek Hrivik skated into the right circle and passed across to Haley, who one-timed it over Anders Nilsson’s pad from just outside the crease.
Matt Donovan evened the score midway through the opening period with his first tally of the season. Sean Backman entered the zone down the left side with Donovan on a 2-on-3 attack. All three Whale defenders went after Backman, who spun out of coverage to find Donovan in the middle. Donovan’s forehand on the bouncing puck snuck between Whale goaltender Cameron Talbot’s blocker and the post. Mike Halmo was credited with the secondary assist.
The tie lasted less than five minutes, as Connecticut’s Kyle Jean scored at 13:57. Jean deked around a defenseman in the left circle, pulling Nilsson out of position, and wrapped around the net to notch a 2-1 advantage. Ryan Bourque and Brandon Segal earned assists on the play.
Just 39 seconds later, the Whale added to their lead on Haley’s second goal of the day. The Whale applied extensive pressure in the Sound Tigers’ zone before Hrivik received a feed behind the Bridgeport goal. He passed the puck into the high slot for Haley, who one-timed it past Nilsson to make the score 3-1.
Even though his team trailed by two goals, Head Coach Scott Pellerin was not surprised the Sound Tigers found a way to battle back.
“We knew we could correct what had happened,” Pellerin said. “We had some bad coverages and some bad turnovers. We didn’t take care of the puck correctly. I knew we were still in the game, and that our guys were going to bounce back. They’ve been doing it all season long.”
Early in the second period, Colin McDonald was called for a boarding major after checking Jyri Niemi in Connecticut zone. Segal went after McDonald, and soon, all five players on either side were engaged in a brawl. Niemi was carted off on a stretcher after a lengthy delay. By the time the dust settled, McDonald was also assessed a game misconduct. Segal and Nathan McIver received matching infractions for roughing as well as 10-minute misconducts.
The Whale, who entered Sunday with the third-ranked power play in the AHL at 22.8%, were unable to generate any good scoring chances on the ensuing five-minute man advantage. Travis Hamonic said that the Sound Tigers were able to refocus during the extended penalty kill, and turn the momentum back in Bridgeport’s favor.
“The game definitely could have gotten out of hand on that PK,” Hamonic said. “We were not playing our game. We were making some mistakes. We know that we have to play better. We set a standard in this dressing room as to how we want to play and I don’t think we were anywhere near that in the first period. It was nice that we could use that opportunity to recharge and refocus, and I think we did a good job coming back.”
Less than a minute after killing the penalty, the Sound Tigers went on a power play of their own when Matt Watkins drew a holding minor on Connecticut’s Sean Collins. Toward the end of the power play, Brock Nelson lit the lamp for the seventh time this season, cutting the Whale lead to 3-2. Jon Landry and Aaron Ness worked the puck back and forth at the blue line before Nelson received a pass at the top of the right circle. The rookie forward took advantage of his time and space, wristing a shot through traffic and past Talbot at 8:57, extending his goal streak to five games.
The Sound Tigers would even the score later in the middle period after a pair of Whale tripping minors put the home team on a 5-on-3 advantage. Connecticut’s Kris Newbury went to the penalty box at 12:37, and Sam Klassen followed at 14:14, giving the Sound Tigers a two-man advantage for 23 seconds. Just as the Newbury minor expired, Nino Niederreiter made a pass from the right wing boards to Travis Hamonic at the top of the zone. Hamonic one-timed a slap shot through traffic and behind Talbot, knotting the score at 3-3.
“You like to move the puck around a little bit on the 5-on-3 but I don’t think we had that much time,” Hamonic said. “Sometimes things have to be a little more urgent than others. Nino gave me a really good pass right in my wheelhouse. I just closed my eyes and shot it as hard as I could.”
Late in the third period, Halmo gave the Sound Tigers their first lead of the game. Jon Landry made a pass from deep in the Bridgeport zone up the ice to the winger, who had a breakaway from the neutral zone. Halmo shot it over Talbot’s blocker, making the score 4-3 with less than five minutes remaining.
“I just saw a break, and Landry had the puck and I took off,” Halmo said. “He hit me with the pass. I kind of lost the puck in the bad ice, so I just decided to shoot, and it went in.”
Halmo’s goal marked the 10th consecutive period that the Sound Tigers found the back of the net, going back to the third period of the Nov. 4 matchup against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
“We’re trying to play consistent,” Pellerin said. “That’s what we’ve been talking about as a team, and when we play physical and we play together, we’re going to get chances. We get a lot of quality shots, and we’re going to score goals when we get those chances.”
The Sound Tigers took a late penalty, and with Talbot pulled in favor of an extra attacker, the Whale had a 6-on-4 attack for the final 42 seconds. But Nilsson and the rest of the Sound Tigers kept the door shut, securing two points in the standings.
The Sound Tigers are back in action next Friday, Nov. 16, when they play the first of three consecutive games, starting with a road matchup against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at 7:05 p.m.
1. BRI: Mike Halmo
2. BRI: Brock Nelson
3. CTW: Micheal Haley
Bridgeport Sound Tigers
22 Nino Niederreiter – 29 Brock Nelson – 13 Colin McDonald
23 John Persson – 11 Casey Cizikas – 42 Brandon DeFazio
40 Mike Halmo – 28 Johan Sundstrom – 16 Sean Backman
44 Brett Gallant – 14 Matt Watkins – 20 Blair Riley
8 Nathan McIver – 3 Travis Hamonic
27 Aaron Ness – 7 Jon Landry
46 Matt Donovan – 6 Ty Wishart
45 Anders Nilsson (starter)
38 Kevin Poulin
10 J.T. Miller – 18 Micheal Haley – 21 Andrew Yogan
9 Ryan Bourque – 7 Kyle Jean – 26 Brandon Segal
15 Marek Hrivik – 90 Kelsey Tessier – 16 Tommy Grant
20 Chris Kreider – 11 Kris Newbury – 92 Christian Thomas
39 Logan Pyett – 97 Matt Gilroy
3 Sam Klassen – 25 Sean Collins
8 Jyri Niemi – 5 Blake Parlett
33 Cameron Talbot (starter)
31 Jason Missiaen