The Bridgeport Sound Tigers (40-22-6-3), proud AHL affiliate of the New York Islanders, can clinch a postseason berth for the first time since 2016 when they face the Providence Bruins (35-24-8-3) in a home-and-home series this weekend. The Sound Tigers' magic number is just "two" after the club collected three points in its last three games.
Only five other teams have already solidified their spot in the 2019 Calder Cup Playoffs, including the Charlotte Checkers, who clinched the Atlantic Division title following Bridgeport's 3-1 loss to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Tuesday morning.
The Sound Tigers completed their season-long, eight-game homestand on Tuesday and suffered just their seventh regulation loss at home all year (24-7-3-2). Islanders prospect Grant Hutton earned his first professional point with an assist on Jeff Kubiak's third-period goal, while Stamford's Ryan Haggerty had two goals for the Penguins. It was Bridgeport's fourth and final morning game this season, which was attended by nearly 8,000 energetic fans at Webster Bank Arena.
The Sound Tigers also faced a pair of division rivals last weekend and split a two-game series at home. On Saturday, Jeremy Smith (21-11-4) made 28 saves against his former team in a playoff-style bout, helping Bridgeport squeeze out a 2-1 win against league-leading Charlotte. Kubiak collected the game's first goal after more than 47 scoreless minutes, while Steve Bernier earned his team-leading sixth game-winner less than five minutes later. Smith also increased his save percentage in March to an impressive 0.948 through eight games en route to his 21st win of the season.
Less than 24 hours later, the Sound Tigers struck first with an early power-play goal in the opening three minutes on Sunday, but suffered a 2-1 shootout loss to the Hershey Bears in front of 5,859 fans. Sebastian Aho scored his eighth goal of the season and Christopher Gibson (19-11-5) made 25 saves on 26 shots, as Bridgeport finished its six-game season series against Hershey 3-2-0-1.
The Sound Tigers have five games left in the regular season and battle the fourth-place Bruins in two of those this weekend. Bridgeport travels to Providence, R.I. on Friday for a 7:05 p.m. puck drop against Boston's top affiliate, before returning home for a 7 p.m. rematch on Saturday.
Fans can follow all of the action online via the Sound Tigers Radio Network and AHLTV, beginning with the pre-game show 15 minutes before each listed start time.
News and Notes:
Hutton Helps Out: Miami University (Ohio) product Grant Hutton made his professional debut with the Sound Tigers on Wednesday, March 27 and has played in each game since (four total). The 23-year-old defenseman recorded his first pro point with an assist on Tuesday, has logged two shots on goal, and earned power-play time to begin his career. Hutton agreed to terms on a one-year, entry-level deal with the Islanders (begins next season) on March 21 and also signed an amateur tryout agreement (ATO) with the Sound Tigers later that day.
First-Round Pick Makes Debut: Highly-touted prospect Oliver Wahlstrom made his professional debut with the Sound Tigers on Tuesday and registered one shot on goal, although several others were close but got deflected in front. The Islanders' 11th-overall pick in June started the game on Brent Thompson's top line with Matt Lorito and Jeff Kubiak, but lines were mixed up midway through the contest. The 18-year-old recorded 19 points (eight goals, 11 assists) in 36 games with Boston College earlier this season and also notched four points (two goals, two assists) in seven games during the 2018 World Junior Championships (Team USA). He signed a three-year, entry-level deal with the Islanders (begins next season) on Thursday and agreed to terms on an amateur tryout agreement with the Sound Tigers last Friday.
Offense Cools Off: The Sound Tigers have scored two goals or less in each of their last four games - tied for the longest such streak this season. Three of those four games have resulted in one or no goals scored. Bridgeport is 32-4-3-1 when recording at least three goals in a contest this season and 8-18-3-2 when collecting two goals or less.
Quick Hits : Steve Bernier leads all active AHL players in shooting percentage (24.5%)… Otto Koivula is tied for fifth among AHL rookies with 18 goals and tied for seventh in scoring (43 points)… Sebastian Aho is 12th among league defensemen with 41 points (eight goals, 33 assists)… Ben Holmstrom was named Bridgeport's 2018-19 IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year… It's the first time he's won the prestigious honor… The Sound Tigers have gone to overtime 24 times this season, tied for the most in the AHL... Bridgeport can clinch home-ice advantage in the first round by Saturday with two wins (at least one not by shootout) and two Hershey regulation losses.
The week ahead:
Friday, Apr. 5 at Providence Bruins (7:05 p.m.): The Sound Tigers make their final trip to Dunkin' Donuts Center on Friday, where the club is winless in regulation and 2-3-0-0 in 2018-19. It's Bridgeport's first visit to Rhode Island since Feb. 22 when Mitch Vande Sompel scored his first career overtime-winning goal en route to a 5-4 victory. Bridgeport is 6-3-1-0 against Providence overall this season.
Saturday, Apr. 6 vs. Charlotte Checkers (7 p.m.): The Sound Tigers host Providence in their final weekend home game of the regular season, which features "Marvel Night" at Webster Bank Arena. Spider-Man, Captain America, Ant-Man and Black Panther will all be in attendance to meet fans and take pictures throughout the game, beginning when doors open at 6 p.m. For just $35, get a ticket to the game, one (1) movie voucher valid at any Bow Tie Cinemas to see Marvel's Avengers: Endgame, one (1) autographed Sound Tigers trading card sheet, and early entry to meet the characters beginning at 5 p.m. Click here for tickets and more details.
Goals: Steve Bernier (23)
Assists: Chris Bourque (37)
Points: Chris Bourque (52)
Plus/Minus: Jeff Kubiak (+15)
Penalty Minutes: Seth Helgeson (113)
Power-play goals: Steve Bernier (9)
Shots: Chris Bourque (157)
Wins: Jeremy Smith (21)
The ECHL's Worcester Railers H.C. (30-28-6-4) are six points out of a playoff spot with four games left in the regular season. Their postseason hopes have taken a big hit over the last three weeks, as the Railers have lost six straight games including back-to-back losses against the Brampton Beast last weekend. Worcester allowed seven goals in each setback and fell 7-4 in its last outing on Sunday, despite leading 4-2 after two periods. The Railers return to action tonight with a 7 p.m. matchup against the Manchester Monarchs at home, before concluding the regular season with three games in as many days this weekend.