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Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Season in Review: April
by Leah Cover

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins took the ice in 2012-13 for their 14th season of play and looking to come on top of the rough and tumble East Division. With the NHL lockout providing the backdrop for the first half of the season, the Penguins seemed to find their stride over the final two months of the regular season en route to their 11th consecutive Calder Cup Playoff appearance.  Over the next few weeks, we will recap Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s season, month-by-month. 

After a mix of wins and losses in the month of March, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins entered April with the business of clinching a playoff berth firmly atop of their agenda.   

Already with a win carrying over from last month, the Penguins would open up April with a six-game winning streak, starting with a 3-2 victory over the Norfolk Admirals on Apr. 2.  The top line continued to lead the offense as Chad Kolarik assisted on goals by Trevor Smith and Riley Holzapfel in helping Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to a 2-0 lead.  It was Chris Collins’ first tally of the season though, coming at 18:39 of the second the proved to be the game-winner.  Norfolk rallied in the third with a pair of goals, but the Penguins were able to hold off the Admirals for the remainder of the regulation.

Three days later, the team took another 3-2 victory.  This time, it came in overtime against the Adirondack Phantoms.   After the Phantoms had knotted the score at two late in the third period, defenseman Alex Grant rocketed home a point shot 1:19 into overtime to make it three wins in a row for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.  Brian Gibbons added two assists in the contest.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton continued their winning streak the following night against the Albany Devils with a 4-0 shutout at Mohegan Sun Arena.  Kolarik, Smith and Grant each posted a goal and an assist, while Holzapfel registered two assists.  The team put forth its best defensive game of the season, only allowing 11 shots by the Devils the entire game.

The Penguins took the ice for the third straight day, skating against the Hershey Bears on Apr. 7.  Hershey jumped out to a 1-0 lead 1:54 into the first period thanks to Dmitry Orlov, but the Pens would go on to rattle off four unanswered goals.  Paul Thompson and Brian Dumoulin gave Wilkes-Barre/Scranton the lead later in the same period off of assists from Gibbons.  Kolarik found the back of the net during the second and also less than a minute into the third period, extending the Penguins’ lead to 4-1.  Despite the deficit, the Bears were almost able to send the game into overtime when Ryan Potulny converted on the power play and Peter LeBlanc followed with a goal 2:34 later.  Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and goaltender Jeff Zatkoff stood strong to preserve the 4-3 win and make it five in a row. 

The next-to-last weekend of the regular season featured a trip to St. John’s for two games versus the IceCaps.  On Saturday, Apr. 13, Zatkoff picked up his second shutout of the month and fifth on the season by a final score of 3-0.  After recording one goal in his first 49 games, it was in his 50th that Dominik Uher scored not once, but twice in putting Wilkes-Barre/Scranton up, 2-0.  Paul Thompson notched his 19th goal of the season and the Penguins were able to officially punch their ticket to the Calder Cup Playoffs for the 11th straight season.   

With their playoff berth secure, the Penguins turned their attention to maintaining their hold on the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.  With three games to play, every chip would need to fall perfectly for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to catch Binghamton who sat five points ahead; but the Penguins still had work to do to fend off the Portland Pirates, also sitting five points behind with four games remaining. 

Sunday’s match-up versus the IceCaps turned out to be the Chad Kolarik show as he started the game, and ended it, with a flourish. He broke a scoreless contest with a power play goal at 17:49 of the first and, from there the two teams went back and forth until Will O’Neill gave St. John’s its first lead of the game, 3-2, at 11:54 of the third.  Less than three minutes later, Kolarik tied the match when he forced a turnover in the IceCaps zone and zipped a shot past goalie Eddie Pasquale.   He then capped things off at 2:09 of overtime with a goal on an end-to-end rush that completed the hat trick and gave Wilkes-Barre/Scranton its seventh consecutive victory. 

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton returned home for the final weekend needing one point over the last two games to clinch the fifth seed, but two non-division foes had other plans for the Penguins.

Against Worcester on Apr. 19, the Penguins were stunned by a pair of shorthanded goals late in regulation that gave the Sharks the 4-2 win.  Things looked promising for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as Adam Payerl gave his team an early 1-0 lead at 3:08 of the first. The Sharks tied it up at 14:39 and would later go ahead, 2-1, six minutes into the third on Adam Comrie’s tally.  It seemed as though Riley Holzapfel’s equalizer at 12:56 returned the game to order, especially as the Penguins went on the man-advantage with three minutes to go.  Instead, it was Freddie Hamilton scoring shorthanded with 1:54 remaining in regulation and later adding an empty-netter to allow Worcester to escape with a win.

The regular season finale the next night became almost a must-win for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as they took on the Manchester Monarchs.  The game saw scoreless play through two periods, until David Kolomatis scored for the Monarchs 31 seconds into the third.  Ten minutes later, Manchester doubled their on a power play goal by Andy Andreoff.  The Penguins got some life at 18:41 when Paul Thompson tallied on the man-advantage, but Manchester answered with an empty-netter to earn the game.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton went 6-2-0-0 in April – highlighted by their season-best, seven-game winning streak – and ended the season with a record of 42-30-2-2. Kolarik (6g-5a) led the team with 11 points in April to bring his season total to 68, finishing in a tie for third in the AHL. 

Goaltenders Jeff Zatkoff and Brad Thiessen helped the Penguins to the league’s lowest goals against average (1.93) to earn the Harry “Hap” Holmes Memorial Award.  Though the Penguins’ regular season had come to an end, their playoff opponent remained in question.  Portland had won three in a row to pull within one point of the fifth seed and looked to leap over idle Wilkes-Barre/Scranton with a Sunday matinee against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. 

A fast start by the Sound Tigers led to an eventual 4-1 loss for the Pirates and the Penguins held on to the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference standings. 

For their good fortune, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was awarded a match-up against a formidable opponent for the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal – a best-of-five series versus the Binghamton Senators. 

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