Tigers start slow, can’t rally
BRIDGEPORT — Within the big picture, in which the Bridgeport Sound Tigers are still in good position for home ice in the first round of the AHL playoffs, are a couple of weird little blemishes.
Four times in the past 11 games, the Sound Tigers have fallen behind early, struggled to catch up and dropped a game, including Tuesday morning’s 3-1 loss to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at Webster Bank Arena.
“It doesn’t concern me, but it’s obviously something we need to address,” veteran Bridgeport forward Steve Bernier said. “We’ve got a great coaching staff, great players. Nobody wants to get down 3-0 in five minutes. The opposite would be nice.”
Bridgeport was called for a penalty on the first shift of the game, and Stamford native Ryan Haggerty scored the first of his two goals 47 seconds in to the game. Chase Berger (his first pro goal out of Penn State) and Haggerty scored 46 seconds apart soon after.
Bridgeport lost 4-0 to Charlotte in the middle of this now-completed eight-game homestand (4-2-1-1). It dropped a 5-1 game at Hershey in the game before the homestand and a 5-0 game at Rochester a week earlier.
“I don’t know if it’s a concern, just mental focus,” Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson said. “We’ve got to realize, Wilkes-Barre’s playing for their playoff lives. We know they’re going to come with desperation. They’re already a fast, great team.
“Over the course of a 76-game schedule, you’re going to lose some games, and tonight, we laid an egg, at least off the start.”
Attendance was 7,898, largest this season, for “Spring Fun,” the third morning game of the year aimed toward school groups.
The Sound Tigers could’ve clinched a playoff spot with a win. That has to wait to the weekend. Charlotte clinched first place in the Atlantic Division with Bridgeport’s loss. The Sound Tigers lead third-place Hershey by six points.
The Penguins are three points behind fourth-place Providence with six games remaining.
“It’s a tough 10:30 start, but usually the team that gets off to a good start early finishes strong,” Haggerty said. “It was a good first by the boys, and we got rolling.”
Haggerty has a career-high 22 goals, reaching 20 for the first time in his five pro seasons on Saturday night.
“Our line’s playing well with (Sam) Miletic and (Sam) Lafferty,” Haggerty said. “We’re all contributing and helping the team win right now. That’s all we need to do.”
Lafferty set up Haggerty’s power-play goal and won the draw on which Haggerty scored the Penguins’ third goal. Berger scored through traffic at 5:47.
“Going into the playoffs, we’re going to have to be defensively rock-solid. That’s going to be the focus,” Thompson said. “I thought our guys competed as the game wore on, but we definitely weren’t ready off the start.”
The Sound Tigers were without goalie Christopher Gibson and their two leading scorers, Chris Bourque and Otto Koivula, because of injury. Their status for the weekend home-and-home with Providence is to be determined.
Oliver Wahlstrom, the New York Islanders’ first-round draft pick last summer, made his pro debut for Bridgeport, which got a goal from Jeff Kubiak off defenseman Grant Hutton’s first professional assist.
The Islanders announced that they’ve signed Mason Jobst out of Ohio State to an entry-level contract that begins next season. He’ll likely join Bridgeport on an amateur tryout for the rest of this year.
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PENGUINS 3, SOUND TIGERS 1
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton3 0 0—3
Bridgeport0 0 1—1
First Period — 1, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Haggerty 21 (Lafferty, Burton), :47 (pp). 2, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Berger 1 (Chris Brown, Taylor), 5:47. 3, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Haggerty 22 (Miletic, Lafferty), 6:33. Penalties — Gionta, Bpt (tripping), :33; Cramarossa, WBS (interference), 14:47; Stevens, Bpt (cross-checking), 14:47; Abt, WBS (tripping), 19:43.
Second Period — No scoring. Penalties — Lafferty, WBS (slashing), 8:19; Wotherspoon, Bpt (tripping), 10:50; Taylor, WBS, major (fighting), 14:17; St. Denis, Bpt, minor-major (roughing, fighting), 14:17; Cam Brown, WBS (hooking), 18:01.
Third Period — 4, Bridgeport, Kubiak 9 (Hutton), 8:49 (pp). Penalties — Summers, WBS (cross-checking, unsportsmanlike conduct), 7:55; B.Holmstrom, Bpt (roughing), 7:55; Czuczman, WBS (holding), 13:50; Summers, WBS (cross-checking), 16:07; Bernier, Bpt (roughing), 16:07; Lorito, Bpt (tripping), 16:30; Bernier, Bpt, misconduct, 16:30; B.Holmstrom, Bpt (hooking), 17:25; Erixon, WBS (holding), 18:42.
Shots on goal — Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 14-14-4—32. Bridgeport 8-7-18—33.
Power play opportunities — Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 1 of 5, Bridgeport 1 of 5.
Goaltenders — Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Jarry 23-14-8 (33 shots-32 saves). Bridgeport, Smith 21-11-4 (32-29).
Attendance — 7,898. Referees — R.Anderson, Deckard. Linesmen — K.Briganti, N.Briganti.