Don’t look now Bridgeport hockey fans but “Your Bridgeport Sound Tigers” (as the announcer would say) are heading into this weekend’s action on the verge of winning the Northeast Division, thereby clinching the third seed in the Eastern Conference, which would mean home ice advantage for at least the first round of the AHL’s Calder Cup playoffs.
The Sound Tigers clinched a playoff berth with a 3-3 win at the Webster Bank Arena against visiting Springfield last Wednesday morning. Heading into the weekend the locals have notched 87 points, three points better than the second place Connecticut Whale.
Bridgeport travels to Providence to play the Bruins Friday night, then stays on the road Saturday night when it visits Wilkes Barre-Scranton. The Penguins return the favor Sunday afternoon when they visit Bridgeport for the Sound Tigers final home game of the season at 3 p.m.
Since the dawn of the New Year, the Sound Tigers are a stellar 25-15 and have become one of the elite squads of the American Hockey League. The Bridgeport icemen were especially strong in February posting an 8-2 record, backboned by AHL Goaltender of the Month Anders Nilsson who was 6-0-1 in the same month. Fellow netminder Kevin Poulin, who has bounced back and for the between Bridgeport and its National Hockey League parent the New York Islanders, has also been outstanding in the crease this season. Overall, the Sound Tigers are now 39-25-3-6 for the year.
Rhett Rakhshani and Casey Cizikas are tied for the team lead in points with 44, followed closely by matt Donovan with 42 and Justin DiBeneddto with 41. David Ullstrom holds the team lead in goals scored with 24 and Donovan leads the team in assists with 32.
In the playoff clincher Ullstrom scored the game-winning goal with 4:45 left in regulation and Poulin made 33 saves to propel the locals to the win over the Falcons.
The Sound Tigers opened the scoring 2:36 into the game courtesy of an awkward bounce in the Springfield zone. Steve Oleksy rimmed the puck along the right boards, but as Springfield goaltender Manny Legace came out to play the puck, it shot out towards the slot. Tony Romano got his stick on the puck, and John Persson collected it and sent it into the open net for his third goal in eight games as a pro to put the Sound Tigers up 1-0.
Romano put the Sound Tigers ahead by two with a power play goal midway through the opening frame. Rakhshani held the puck above the left circle and sent a pass to Romano by the left post. Romano spun quickly and fired the puck past Legace for his 10th goal of the season, and the Sound Tigers led 2-0. Bridgeport carried their two-goal lead into the second period, where Poulin stopped all 14 Springfield shots to preserve the Sound Tigers two-goal cushion.
However, a physical period culminated in a power play for Springfield to open the third period, when a scrum involving both sides as the horn sounded resulted in a Falcons man-advantage. Springfield scored on their power play chance just 21 seconds into the third period when Alex Giroux beat Poulin from the right circle to cut the Falcons deficit to one. Springfield evened the score at 6:04 as they forced a turnover in the Bridgeport zone and Wade MacLeod fired past Poulin to tie the score at two.
Ullstrom put the Sound Tigers ahead for good with 4:45 left in regulation. The second-year forward split the Springfield defense to create a brief 2-on-1 opportunity. Ullstrom sent a backhand pass through the crease that deflected off a Falcons skate and past Legace.
The team released its 22-man Clear Day roster in early March. Each team’s clear day roster is made up of 22 players. Only those players listed on a team’s Clear Day roster are eligible to compete in the remainder of the AHL regular season and in the 2012 Calder Cup Playoffs, unless emergency conditions arise as a result of recall, injury or suspension.
Teams may also add signed junior players or players on amateur tryout contracts after Clear Day, but only once their respective junior or college seasons are complete.
Listed below is the Sound Tigers 22-man Clear Day roster, separated by position.
Calvin de Haan
A player in residence can only be used during the remainder of the regular season or the playoffs if a combination of three members of the 22-man roster are injured, recalled or suspended. The following players in residence are:
IN RESIDENCE (4)
Brett Gallant (LW)
Trevor Gillies (LW)
Tony Romano (C/RW)
Russ Sinkewich (D)