Latest hot streak gives Wolf Pack control of playoff destiny

Hartford Wolf Pack logo, farm team of the New York Rangers (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
Hartford Wolf Pack logo, farm team of the New York Rangers (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /

The hype continues to grow in Hartford, for the Wolf Pack are streaking towards history. Our AHL heroes entered last week trailing the Bridgeport Islanders by three points for the Atlantic Division’s final playoff spot. However, they have since reeled off four consecutive victories, including one over those Isles, to vault themselves into playoff position by a point with five games remaining.

Should Hartford qualify, it’ll be the first time they’ve done so in eight seasons.

It would also reward Rangers management for committing to this group by trading for veterans at the trade deadline and sending top prospects there once their respective club seasons ended.

The Wolf Pack received two days off following Sunday’s 5-1 victory at the eighth-seeded WBS Penguins, which punctuated three games in a three-day stretch where they earned four possible six points. How much that mattered, though, would be tested Wednesday when they hosted Bridgeport at the XL Center in the most crucial installment of the “Battle of Connecticut” to be played this season.

The Islanders, as per usual in these bouts, struck first when  Collin Adams won a  puck battle along the right wall and found Paul Thompson for the snap-shot past Louis Domingue thirteen minutes into the contest. It was the only time Dominique would be beaten, as the netminder stopped 29 of 30 shots, masking the issues of a turnover-prone Wolf Pack defense.

For the remainder of the opening frame, that stood as the game’s only goal, with Hartford unable to sustain extended offensive zone time or breakout cleanly due to Bridgeport’s relentless puck pressure.

But as they did in their last meeting, the Wolf Pack would have their way in the second period, as they potted three unanswered tallies to seize the lead for good.

A mere 2:08 into the stanza, Johnny Brodzinski stripped the puck from an Islander defender, weaved to the right side, and beat Cory Schneider to tie it. The goal was the captain’s eighth against the Islanders in the campaign and his team-leading 42nd point.

The Wolf Pack would receive a power play shortly thereafter, when Chris Terry was boxed for hooking, leading to Jake Leschyshyn’s tenth point in 13 games, as the winger’s wrist shot off a  Lauri Pajuniemi dish put Hartford ahead 2-1.

In the latter stage of the third, a Karl Henriksson redirection off a Brandon Scanlin blast which hit Terry’s stick first capped the three-goal-frame. Brodzinki’s empty netter in the third sealed the 4-1 victory, giving the Pack  a one-point lead in the standings entering Friday’s tilt with the division-leading Providence Bruins.

Feeding off of a boisterous crowd on hand two nights later, despite the fact it was Miracle League night resulting in lower music and a quieter goal horn, Hartford snapped  Providence’s eight-game heater with their dominance in all three zones and in between the pipes.

Ryan Carpenter opened the scoring with a power-play tally, as he deflected a Zac Jones rifle past Bruins goaltender past Kyle Keyser for his 18th of the season. Jone’s  assist on the play gave  him 30 points on the season, making him the ninth Wolf Pack player to do so, joining Brodzinski, Will Cuylle, Carpenter, Pajuniemi, Elson and Tim Gettinger.

As time expired on the opening 20 minutes, Anton Blidh, playing against his maiden club for the first time(He didn’t do so when he was with the Colorado Eagles), powered a one-timer into the twine off a feed from Tanner Fritz with 2.2 seconds remaining to double the Hartford advantage. Fritz’s assist was his 29th of the campaign, setting a new career high for him.

After a scoreless second period where Louis was “Dominque dominant” with his nine stops, the Wolf Pack scored thrice in the first nine minutes of the third to run away with the victory.

Trade-acquisition Will Lockwood, who came here in the Vitali Kravtsov trade to Vancouver, lit the lamp for the first time on his new home ice and set a career-high in goals with 15 when he beat Keyser five-hole  to make it 3-0 before a Fritz deflection off of Blidh’s pass and a Jake Leschyshyn clapper rounded out the scoring. Providence threatened several times on their three late power plays, but Dominque stood tall and completed the 25-save shutout.

Yet as good as two emphatic victories over two of their rivals felt, the Pack couldn’t enjoy it for long as  Saturday night marked a road clash with the fourth-seeded Lehigh Valley Phantoms(Philadelphia’s affiliate) in a game that was showcased on NHL Network. Making his Hartford debut was Adam Edstrom, who the Rangers selected in round six, 161 overall in the 2019 draft.

The 20-year-old 6’8, 225IBS forward recently finished his season in Europe with Rogle BK, where he appeared in 42 games and recorded nine goals and 19 points. Not included in those totals are his assist in the decisive game five of the first round or game-winning goal in the second round opener against Skellefteå, a series they would lose in six tilts. Although he didn’t crack the scoresheet, Edstrom made his presence felt with his physical two-way play.

The Wolf Pack opened the scoring a mere 2:18 into the contest when Blidh hit Pajuniemi for a breakaway tally. Hartford doubled up three minutes later when Lockwood deflected Carpentur’s point shot for his 19th goal of the season. Alas, try as they might, this wouldn’t be the Phantoms’ night, as Dylan Garad only allowed one of the 34-shot barrages to get by him, which would come in the second period when Emil Andrae scored for his first AHL goal in his fourth game. With his team needing insurance, Fritz made it 3-1 7:52 into the third period, depositing a pass from Tim Gettinger before  Brodzinki’s 21st on a net-front poke in, and Carpenter’s 19th off a laser from the point culminated the 5-1 victory.

As of Tuesday, the Wolfpack(31-25-11, 73 points) lead the Islanders(32-27-8, 72 points) by a point with five games left and will meet them for the final time this season on April 7th, following their next match on April 5th, when they host the Toronto Marlies at 7 PM.