by Bob Crawford Hartford Wolf Pack Diector, Media Relations and Broadcasting
The Wolf Pack continued to use a light schedule to rest up some bumps and bruises this past week. The club had only two games during the week, both of which they were forced to play with a short lineup, and happily for them, they won the one that was a four-point divisional game. They were only able to get one point out of Saturday's visit to Bridgeport, losing 3-2 in overtime.
It's awfully hard to beat the same team twice in a row, especially one as talented as the Lowell Lock Monsters, but that's what the Wolf Pack pulled off with a 1-0 win at home on Wednesday night. Lowell already had as good a top six forwards as I've seen in the league, and they added Matthew Lombardi to the mix last week, as Lombardi finally found his way back on the ice after battling post-concussion syndrome since last year's Stanley Cup playoffs. Lombardi not only spent all of last season with Calgary, but he tallied 16 goals on the year, the fifth-highest total on the Cup-finalist club. The Lock Monsters were not able to solve ex-Monster Steve Valiquette in Wednesday's game, though, as Valiquette rang up his second shutout in three starts.
The Wolf Pack came out like gangbusters in that one, outshooting the Lock Monsters 15-5 in the first period after they had bested Lowell 3-2 on the road the previous Saturday,. They could only get Jeff Hamilton's goal, the result of good hard work by linemates Lucas Lawson and Dwight Helminen, at 13:44 past Lowell target Cam Ward though, and it hardly seemed likely that would be enough. The Lock Monsters found their game in the second period, too, and it was all the Wolf Pack could do to hold the fort the rest of the way. That they did though, calmed by some top-shelf work by Valiquette on the last line of defense. Hamilton got credit for his 10th game-winning goal--almost half of his 21 total tallies have been game-winners--and he came out of Wednesday's game tied for the league lead in that category. It was good to see Helminen rewarded with a point also. He had been up and down like the proverbial yo-yo the past couple of weeks between Charlotte and the Wolf Pack, and that has got to make it hard on a young player to establish any kind of consistency in his game. I've liked Helminen's "jam" and his speed throughout his tenure with the Wolf Pack, though, and he got his assist on Wednesday the hard way. Hamilton gave him a pass in the neutral zone that caused Helminen to get hit by a pair of Lock Monsters, but he absorbed the shots and kept the puck moving, allowing Lawson to set up Hamilton for the finish.
After that big divisional win the Wolf Pack enjoyed a rare Friday night off before the finale of the 10-game GEICO Connecticut Cup series in Bridgeport Saturday. The Sound Tigers are a severe long shot to make the postseason and if anything are even more banged up than the Wolf Pack. The Pack appeared poised to take advantage of the makeshift Bridgeport roster when they scored twice in a span of less than two minutes in the first period, but then they seemed to take their foot off the gas and Bridgeport showed they had plenty of starch left in them. It was 2-1 by the end of the first, and the Sound Tigers kept hanging around. They tied it late in the second and then after the Wolf Pack failed to capitalize on a power play in overtime, Bridgeport got a man advantage of their own and didn't miss. With just 20 seconds remaining in the extra session Bruno Gervais pounded a slap shot past Valiquette, and the Sound Tigers had salvaged a measure of pride in the season series. The Pack still won the inaugural GEICO Connecticut Cup, going 6-2-2 against their Nutmeg State brethren, but Bridgeport took two of the last three, both in overtime. This game was eerily similar to the Pack's last visit to southern Connecticut January 30th, in which they built a 3-0 first-period lead against the Sound Tigers, only to see Bridgeport come back and tie that one before eventually winning 6-4. The Wolf Pack have generally been a real solid team with the lead, too, and with them theoretically being the fresher team having not played the night before while the Sound Tigers did, that has to be a tough defeat for the team to swallow.
It's another week of rest and practice this week, before the Pack play the final 10 games of their season in a span of 17 days in April. Hopefully Joel Bouchard will be ready to jump into action by Friday's visit to Springfield, and guys like Chad Wiseman, Jeff MacMillan and Layne Ulmer will be fully healed. The Pack still have a reasonable shot at first place in the division, which would also likely mean a repeat as regular season champs in the Eastern Conference and home ice advantage through the Conference Finals. So it would be great to see a fully-loaded roster as the club makes the final turn for home.