Stopping 127 of 130 shots faced, Cameron Talbot elevated the Connecticut Whale to the franchise’s first playoff series win since 2006 after Casey Wellman’s goal 16:36 into overtime sent the Bridgeport Sound Tigers home.
Talbot, who shut out the Sound Tigers on the road in games one and two, played well again Sunday night, despite allowing three goals. His back-to-back shutouts were the first in franchise playoff history.
A desperate Sound Tigers team never let the Whale skate away with the series victory on Sunday. The Whale, who looked sharp in the first period, couldn’t hold a lead as the teams traded goals in the fist and third periods.
On the Connecticut side, the Whale were propelled by Marek Hrivik, the undrafted Slovakian who nearly found his way going home rather than Hartford. The two goals from Hrivik on Sunday gave him four in the playoffs. Hrivik only scored once in eight games during the regular season, but from his first shift he always looked hungry for the puck and played like a scorer. The Whale also got a contribution from Ryan Bourque, his second of the series, on a pretty two-on-one play with Kelsey Tessier.
The Whale came three minutes from sweeping the Sound Tigers in regulation until Rhett Rakhshani tied things for a jubilant Sound Tigers bench. Justin DiBenedetto and David Ullstrom also scored for the Sound Tigers. In net, Kevin Poulin, who took most of the chastising from the Hartford crowd, played excellent saving 50 of 54 shots. His game, which ended in unfortunate fashion, included a second period where he stopped all 22 shots the Whale put on him, making sure the game didn’t get away from the Sound Tigers. Bridgeport only had 10 shots on Talbot in that same period.
Wellman’s overtime goal came in the last few seconds of a powerplay that caused some frustration on the Bridgeport side. Tony Romano, trying to play the puck, slashed the stick of Wade Redden, earning him a trip to the penalty box. The replay, which absolutely showed Romano breaking Redden’s stick, didn’t make the penalty easier to swallow because of how innocent the contact actually seemed. Redden, new stick and all, went on to make a great cross pass to Wellman who easily netted the winner.
Sunday’s game was the only one of the series I was able to see. Even though the team gave up three goals and couldn’t hold onto a lead for very long, they looked like a much different Whale team than we saw in their home regular season finale not too long ago. That team was sloppy, meandering and not on the same page. Last night’s team was a polar opposite. Passes were crisp, the effective forecheckers were attacking hard and despite giving up 47 shots, the defense played with accountability. And most importantly, the team remained disciplined, only earning itself four minor penalties throughout the contest.
If Talbot plays like this in the semifinals, I wouldn’t put it past the Whale to steal another series. His success gave the rest of the team the confidence it takes to win a playoff hockey series. The team could still use a little more offense from key scorers Kris Newbury and Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, as well as some offensive involvement from Tim Erixon and Pavel Valentenko on the blueline, but that’s all fodder for trying to find something to critique about their excellent round one play.
It remains to be seen who the Whale will play in the second round. Both the number one seed Norfolk Admirals, who just had a 29 game winning streak snapped, and the second seed St. John’s Ice Caps, are tied at one a piece in their series. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins are one win away from sending the Hershey Bears home in the first round for the second straight season.