TAFFE, MINARD PACE PENS TO WIN
WILKES-BARRE, PA – The dynamic duo of Chris Minard and Jeff Taffe continued their torrid scoring pace on Saturday, combining for four goals and six points as the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins posted a 5-4 win against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers at the Wachovia Arena at Casey Plaza.
The win moved the Penguins (19-11-1-1, 40 points) into third place in the East Division, and allowed them to gain ground on both the Sound Tigers (21-9-1-2, 45 points) and the Hershey Bears (22-8-0-1, 45 points).
Minard exploded for a pair of goals in the third period, giving him a league-leading 24 on the season. His first tally, which followed 23 seconds after Nick Johnson tied the game at 3-3, gave the Penguins their first lead of the night.
His second came just six ticks after Bridgeport’s Jason Pitton tied the game at 4-4 with a shorthanded tally midway through the final frame.
“They got the shorthanded goal, got them back into the game, tied the game up. And we still had plenty of time to take a deep breath, refocus and go back out,” said Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma. “Our power play was Johnny on the spot. We needed to come up with a big play and we got it.”
The winner came in typical, hard-nosed fashion for Minard. The league’s leader in both power play (12) and game-winning goals (7) was camped out at the far side of the Bridgeport cage, and picked up the rebound off a Taffe shot off the post with 8:31 to play in the game, just beating teammate Luca Caputi to the loose puck.
“It showed a lot in our power play unit [to bounce back],” said Taffe, who posted his second four point game (2+2) in as many nights. “The coaches left us on, usually they can yank you pretty quick after a big goal like that. But they had confidence, it shows a lot. And it was a huge goal for us. Two guys battling around the net. Either one could have got that one.”
It was no surprise that Minard found the back of the net Saturday night. The Pens’ sniper extended his goal scoring streak to five games, and notched his eighth goal in that time frame. Minard also stretched his point streak to seven games (8+3=11) and moved into a tie for the league’s point lead at 38 (24+14).
Bridgeport opened the scoring when Trevor Smith poked a Brett Skinner rebound through John Curry’s legs at 5:54 of the opening period. But Taffe quickly countered with a wraparound effort that deflected off a Sound Tiger defender and trickled behind Peter Mannino at 6:45.
Skinner picked up his second point of the period at 9:03, stickhandling through the neutral zone and then snapping off a quick wrister through traffic to beat John Curry past his right skate.
Taffe tipped home a Deryk Engelland blast with 56 seconds left in the first to tie the score at 2-2 after 20 minutes.
Smith’s second of the night at 19:10 of the middle period gave the Sound Tigers the lead heading into the third frame, which saw the Penguins score three times on eight shots.
Bridgeport scored three times on the man advantage, making Saturday’s game just the third on the season where the Penguins allowed more than one power play goal.
“They have a great power play,” Taffe said. “Five on five, we were talking, it was really one of our better games of the year. So we were happy with the way that went. The third period, you just have to stick to the game plan.”
NOTES: Minard tied the team record for longest goal streak at five games. Erik Christensen (Oct. 21-29, 2005) and Daniel Carcillo (Nov. 29-Dec. 9, 2006) previously set the mark…Minard’s seven game-winning goals are just one shy of the team record of eight, set last season by current Sound Tiger Kurtis McLean…Taffe has recorded three four-point games in his last five AHL contests (2+2 on Dec. 6 vs. Albany; 0+4 on Dec. 26 @ Philadelphia; 2+2 on Dec. 27 vs. Bridgeport)…Ryan Stone had three assists on the night, and moved ahead of Tomas Surovy for sixth place on the team’s all-time assist list (91)…Stone also moved ahead of Colby Armstrong for 10th place on the team’s all-time scoring list (130).