PENGUINS FIRE EARLY, HOLD ON LATE TO DEFEAT AMERICANS
WILKES-BARRE TOWNSHIP, Pa. – Chris Lee, Chris Conner, and Dustin Jeffrey each chipped in three points, but Jeff Taffe’s two goals made for a nailbiting finish as the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins held off the Rochester Americans by a 5-4 score on Saturday night at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza, in front of a capacity crowd of 8,227.
The Penguins entered the night having scored two power play goals over their last five games, and were handed abundant chances in the first period – six total – and made half of them count. Just 3:19 into the first period, working on a four-minute power play given when Taffe was whistled for a high-sticking penalty, Conner took a shot from the right circle that was padded away by Amerks goaltender Alexander Salak. The rebound came right to Tim Wallace, who backhanded his 23rd goal of the season into a vacant net. The Penguins earned a four-on-three power play when penalties to Wyatt Smith and the Amerks’ Jordan Henry and Rory Fitzpatrick were handed out. With more open ice to work with, Mark Letestu faked a shot from the left circle, and fired a cross-zone pass to Lee, who blasted a shot over the arm of Salak and gave the Penguins a 2-0 edge.
The penalty-filled period continued and while working four-on-four, Conner put in the rebound of another Lee shot to give the Penguins a 3-0 lead. Jeffrey earned an assist on all of the first three Penguins goals.
The Amerks got on the board at 15:15 when Jordan Henry got himself open in the slot, took a feed from behind the net by Jamie Johnson, and wristed a shot of the glove hand of Penguins goaltender John Curry. But just 1:21 later, while on their sixth power play of the period, Lee and Conner would work the puck toward the slot. Eric Tangradi, back in the lineup after missing two weeks due to injury, redirected Conner’s pass low and behind Salak for his 13th goal of the season. The Penguins led 4-1 at the first intermission and outshot the Amerks 20-9.
Rochester brought goaltender Tyler Plante on in relief of Salak to start the second period, and the move would pay off. Taffe picked up his first of the night at 2:18 on the power play. Clay Wilson took a shot that Curry thought he had covered, but Taffe spotted the loose puck and swept it home for his 24th of the season. Konstantin Pushkarev would score his second in as many nights at the 7:00 minute mark, when Steve Wagner’s point shot was stopped by Plante but not covered. Pushkarev pushed the puck in for his 9th of the year and a 5-2 lead.
Taffe scored his second of the period at 18:40 on a pretty tip from the hash marks off of another Wilson point shot, to bring the Amerks to within 5-3.
The Amerks would outshoot the Penguins 11-8 in the second period, and 12-3 in the third after their nightmarish start. The visitors got their fourth goal with 2:02 remaining, after a long offensive zone cycle allowed the puck to come to Wilson at the left point. He sent a low shot toward traffic, and John de Gray got enough of a deflection on the puck for it to slide to Chris Taylor stationed at the right post. He pushed the puck in to pull the Amerks within one, but with Plante on the bench for the extra attacker in the final 20 seconds of play, Smith was able to pin the puck in the offensive zone and let time run out.
Curry won his 23rd game of the year by stopping 28 of 32 Rochester shots, and saw his record improve to 23-17-2. Plante absorbed the hard-luck loss by being on the ice when Pushkarev’s eventual game-winner was scored. He fell to 7-10-0, stopping 10 of 11. Salak stopped 16 of 20 Penguins shots in the first period.
The Penguins finished 3-for-8 on their power play, and 3-for-4 on their penalty kill.
Coupled with Bridgeport’s 4-3 overtime loss to Manchester and Norfolk’s 3-1 win over Adirondack, the Penguins are now in fourth place in the East Division, one point ahead of Bridgeport and one point behind Norfolk. The Penguins and Sound Tigers each have ten games remaining, while the Penguins still hold one game in hand on the Admirals. Next up is a set of two games against the Admirals in Virginia, on Wednesday and Friday at 7:15 pm. The team returns home on Sunday, March 28th for a 3:05 pm matchup with the Worcester Sharks.
NOTES: The Penguins remain the only team in the AHL to be undefeated in regulation when outshot at home (7-0-0-1)… The Penguins set a season high by earning six first-period power plays and scoring on three of them… RW Chris Conner became the third Penguins player to reach 50 points, by posting his seventh three-point night of the season… Conner was honored before the game for his achievement of the Reebok/AHL Player of the Month of February… D Chris Lee chipped in his first three-point night of the season.