Colin McDonald posted two goals and two assists in his first home game as team captain, and Anders Nilsson made 37 saves as the Bridgeport Sound Tigers skated to a 7-2 victory over the Syracuse Crunch on Sunday at Webster Bank Arena. With the win, the Sound Tigers improved to 11-11-0-1 (23 points), while Syracuse fell to 14-6-1-2 (31 points).
The Sound Tigers halted an eight-game winless streak with the victory over the second-place team in the Eastern Conference. Sound Tigers special teams units were responsible for five goals, while also stopping all five Syracuse power plays.
“Obviously it hasn’t been fun the last eight games,” McDonald said. “We talked in the locker room about how we were facing a good team coming in here today and how it was going to be a good test. Sometimes that’s what you need. Every guy has to be playing their best in order to beat a team like that. I thought it still wasn’t our best game, but special teams won the game for us, and it’s a good starting point.”
Playing shorthanded early on, the Sound Tigers took the lead in the second minute of the game on Casey Cizikas’ fifth goal of the season. The forward intercepted a pass and had a breakaway from the red line in. Cizikas made a deke to his forehand and beat Crunch goaltender Riku Helenius to make the score 1-0.
“We knew coming in that we were going to have to be really focused on our special teams,” Head Coach Scott Pellerin said. “I wasn’t too happy to have to kill penalties in the first couple of shifts with some stick infractions, but getting a shorthanded goal really helped. Casey made a good read and was able to capitalize on that opportunity.”
Bridgeport was faced with two more penalty kills before the midway point of the opening frame. Nilsson made several big saves through traffic, and Cizikas blocked two shots to keep the Crunch off the board.
The penalty calls favored the home team later in the frame, sending Syracuse’s J.T. Wyman to the box for tripping at 11:48 and giving the Sound Tigers a minute-long 5-on-3 advantage. After holding the zone on a prolonged attack, the Sound Tigers increased their lead on Jon Landry’s sixth tally of the season. His one-timer from McDonald hit Helenius and trickled across the line at 12:34.
Another power play later in the period led to the Sound Tigers third goal of the day. Nathan McIver’s point shot was redirected on goal by John Persson. Helenius stopped the original shot, as well as Persson’s rebound attempt, but Johan Sundstrom crashed the net and knocked the puck in just one second after the man advantage expired.
McDonald scored his first goal of the evening just 36 seconds into the second period. Nelson’s point shot through traffic caromed off a defenseman, and McDonald cleaned up the rebound to make the score 4-0. Following the goal, Helenius was pulled after making nine saves on 13 shots in favor of Dustin Tokarski.
With a 4-0 lead in the second period, the Sound Tigers added another power play marker when McDonald made a pass across the crease from below the goal line to Brock Nelson, whose one-timer found the back of the net at 11:15.
Anders Nilsson came up big for the Sound Tigers all night, especially during the middle frame, when he made 21 saves on 23 shots. Early in the middle frame, Nilsson stopped Mike Angelidis’ one-timer from just outside the crease, and made a several more saves during the ensuing scramble.
The Sound Tigers goalie made another big save later in the period on Brett Connolly. The Crunch forward had a clean route to the net from the circle to Nilsson’s left, and tried to beat him with a backhand attempt, but Nilsson stayed square to the shooter and froze the puck.
Syracuse’s Alex Killorn and J.T. Brown scored 1:06 apart late in the second period to cut the Sound Tigers lead to 5-2, but Nilsson shut the door for the final 23:27. In between the two Crunch goals, Nilsson made perhaps his best save of the night; a sliding right pad save on Tyler Johnson during a 2-on-0 Syracuse attack.
“They came out pretty hard in the second period,” Nilsson said. “Right from the start, they had a couple of good chances. But I felt good from the beginning of the game. When they came at us in the second period, I felt like I was in a zone.”
With the score 5-2, Persson scored with a minute left in the second period, after Tokarski came out of his net to play the puck. A collision between two players and Tokarski took the Crunch netminder out of the play, and Persson picked the puck up from the boards and found the back of the open net.
During a third period power play, McDonald capped the scoring with his second goal of the game. After a scramble in front of Tokarski, the newly appointed captain shot the puck just across the goal line before the net came off its moorings. After a brief review, the play was ruled a goal.
Notes: The Sound Tigers' seven goals were a season-high. Bridgeport scored six goals on two previous occasions this season ... Sunday was “Pucks and Paws” Day at Webster Bank Arena, and fans were welcome to bring their dogs to the game … Casey Cizikas left the game in the third period with an upper-body injury … The top two teams in the AHL in terms of penalty minutes combined for 60 PIMs (BRI: 31, SYR: 29), aided by three fights. Brett Gallant squared off with Jean-Philippe Cote in the first period and with Eric Neilson in the second, and Nathan McIver fought Mike Angelidis late in the third.
Three Stars 1. BRI: Colin McDonald 2. BRI: Anders Nilsson 3. BRI: Brock Nelson
Bridgeport Sound Tigers Forwards 22 Nino Niederreiter – 29 Brock Nelson – 13 Colin McDonald 23 John Persson – 28 Johan Sundstrom – 17 Max MacKay 16 Sean Backman – 11 Casey Cizikas – 20 Blair Riley 44 Brett Gallant – 14 Matt Watkins – 40 Mike Halmo
Defensemen 46 Matt Donovan – 6 Ty Wishart 27 Aaron Ness – 8 Nathan McIver 15 Marc Cantin – 7 Jon Landry
Goaltenders 45 Anders Nilsson (starter) 38 Kevin Poulin
Syracuse Crunch Forwards 12 Ondrej Palat – 9 Tyler Johnson – 14 Richard Panik 23 J.T. Brown – 88 Philip-Michael Devos – 28 Brett Connolly 15 J.T. Wyman – 10 Mike Angelidis – 29 Eric Neilson 78 Danick Gauthier – 19 Alex Killorn – 89 Cory Conacher
Defensemen 6 Matt Taormina – 24 Jean-Philippe Cote 5 Keith Aulie – 8 Mark Barberio 44 Dmitry Korobov – 3 Radko Gudas