By Brian Ring
Hartford, CT, April 22, 2012 – The Connecticut Whale defeated the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, 4-3, in overtime Sunday night at the XL Center to sweep their first-round playoff series, three games to none.
Marek Hrivik had two goals for the Whale and Casey Wellman tallied the overtime game-winner to give Connecticut their first postseason series win since 2006.
“Everybody is contributing and pulling their weight and that’s what it takes and that’s why it’s been such a good feeling tonight,” said Whale head coach Ken Gernander.
The Whale took the first lead of the game on Hrivik’s third goal in the last two games, as he scored at the 6:11 mark of the first period on the power-play. Hrivik took a pass from Wellman, skating in at the bottom of the circle before firing a shot through Sound Tigers’ goaltender Kevin Poulin (50 saves). Mike Vernace picked up the secondary assist on the goal.
The Sound Tigers would end Cam Talbot’s (44 saves) playoff shutout streak at 139 minutes and 44 seconds, as Justin DiBenedetto tied the game on the power-play with 16 seconds remaining in the first period. David Ullstrom slid the puck across the top of the crease to the open DiBenedetto, who tallied the first playoff goal for Bridgeport. Calvin de Haan also assisted on the goal.
Neither team would be able to push anything across in the second period, as Talbot and Poulin dueled throughout the frame. The Whale outshot the Sound Tigers, 22-10, in the second, with Poulin making an exceptional save on Kris Newbury to keep the game tied at one.
Talbot also contributed a quality save on Kael Mouillierat, who broke in on the Whale goaltender alone on a shorthanded breakaway.
The third period would prove to be a change of pace from the quiet second frame.
Ryan Bourque would strike for the Whale 5:32 into the third period, converting on a model give-and-go with Kelsey Tessier in front of Poulin. Tessier drew the attention of Poulin and fed Bourque at the last moment, allowing the Bridgeport goaltender no chance to make a stop. Andreas Thuresson collected the secondary assist on the play.
David Ullstrom would tie the game for Bridgeport with 9:28 left in the third, burying a rebound chance over the left pad of Talbot. DiBenedetto and Matt Donovan notched the assists on the equalizer.
Hrivik would strike again with his second goal of the night and fourth of the series just 46 seconds later, blasting a slapshot past Poulin to put the Whale up 3-2. Hrivik came in on a two-on-one with Andre Deveaux, but opted for the shot, which beat Poulin to his glove side.
“There’s still lots of work ahead of me,” said Hrivik. “I couldn’t find a passing lane through [Wellman] so I just shot it and it just went in.”
“It’s a great opportunity for me and I’m thankful for this.”
The back-and-forth struggle would continue, as Rhett Rakhshani tallied his first goal of the playoffs with 3:21 remaining to tie the game at four and send Game Three into overtime.
Tony Romano would break the stick of Whale defenseman Wade Redden 14:40 into the extra session, setting up a key power-play chance for Connecticut.
With just five seconds left in the man-advantage, Redden fed Wellman coming in at the far post in front of Poulin, who fired the winning shot over the Sound Tigers goaltender for the series clinching tally. Thuresson netted his second assist of the game on the play.
The Whale will now await their opponent for the Eastern Conference Semi-finals series, dates and times to be announced.
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Bridgeport Sound Tigers 3 at Connecticut Whale 4 (OT)
Sunday, April 22, 2012 – XL Center Veterans Memorial Coliseum
Bridgeport 1 0 2 0 – 3
Connecticut 1 0 2 1 – 4
1st Period-1, Connecticut, Hrivik 3 (Wellman, Vernace), 6:11 (PP). 2, Bridgeport, DiBenedetto 1 (Ullstrom, de Haan), 19:44 (PP). Penalties-Donovan Bri (slashing), 3:39; Riley Bri (checking to the head), 4:52; Audy-Marchessault Ct (cross-checking), 16:14; Nightingale Ct (high-sticking), 18:28.
2nd Period- No Scoring.Penalties-DiBenedetto Bri (roughing), 8:56; Newbury Ct (roughing), 8:56; Ness Bri (slashing), 9:38; Mouillierat Bri (tripping), 12:46; Ness Bri (cross-checking), 14:14.
3rd Period-3, Connecticut, Bourque 2 (Tessier, Thuresson), 5:32. 4, Bridgeport, Ullstrom 1 (DiBenedetto, Donovan), 10:32. 5, Connecticut, Hrivik 4 (Deveaux, Valentenko), 11:18. 6, Bridgeport, Rakhshani 1 (Romano, de Haan), 16:39. Penalties-Bell Ct (cross-checking), 8:24.
OT Period-7, Connecticut, Wellman 1 (Redden, Thuresson), 16:36 (PP). Penalties-Romano Bri (slashing), 14:40; Bri (game misconduct – abuse of officials), 16:36; Romano Bri (misconduct – unsportsmanlike conduct), 16:36.
Shots on Goal-Bridgeport 10-10-19-8-47. Connecticut 7-22-14-11-54.
Power Play Opportunities-Bridgeport 1 / 3; Connecticut 2 / 6.
Goalies-Bridgeport, Poulin 0-3-0 (54 shots-50 saves). Connecticut, Talbot 3-0-0 (47 shots-44 saves).
Referees-Francis Charron (46), Chris Brown (86).
Linesmen-Luke Galvin (2), Derek Wahl (46).