HARTFORD, CT – The Wolf Pack wasted one of goalie Matt Zaba’s best games Wednesday night.
Zaba made 31 saves, but Kurtis McLean’s rebound goal with 2:18 left in the first period proved the difference at the Bridgeport Sound Tigers beat the Wolf Pack 1-0 before 3,583 at the XL Center Wednesday night.
The Wolf Pack (27-23-2-3) were shut out for the second time this season and have only one goal in the last two games and have lost four of five. It also was their first loss at the XL in four meetings with the Sound Tigers, who tied the GEICO Connecticut Cup series at 4-4.
“We didn’t have a very good start, and if you’re having trouble creating offense, you can’t afford to wait until the second or third period to really sense desperation or jumpstart your game,” Wolf Pack coach Ken Gernander said. “We were turning over a lot of pucks. Instead of playing along the walls and having puck possession with a ground game, we were just trying to do aerial saucers and toss things into the middle of their coverage.”
But Gernander had no complaints with Zaba.
“He played dynamite,” Gernander said. “He has played well for us, and that was a very good game for him.”
But Sound Tigers rookie Nathan Lawson was one better than Zaba, stopping 23 shots for his second shutout as the Sound Tigers (32-17-3-3) extended their point streak to 4-0-0-1.
“I thought we started well, and then kind of went into a lull and they got the momentum,” Zaba said. “We weren’t generating much offense, and they were doing a good job of staying disciplined and keeping our power play off the ice, which was pretty much the game.
“I felt good, but for whatever reason, we were a little flat. We definitely didn’t have our ‘A’ game, but we’ll get it back together for the weekend.”
Zaba enabled the Pack to escape the first period trailing only 1-0 after being outshot 18-8, including 6-3 in the final 10 minutes. Zaba made a handful of stellar saves, notably off Ben Walter (twice), Micheal Haley and Sean Bentivoglio.
Matthew Ford and Sean Avery, playing his second game with the Wolf Pack after being loaned by the Dallas Stars on Feb. 10, had the Wolf Pack’s best chances early before the Sound Tigers took the lead as McLean beat Patrick Rissmiller to a rebound of former Yale defenseman Joe Callahan’s shot and jammed it past Zaba.
“Honestly, I probably should have had it,” Zaba said. “The rebound was kind of lying to the side, and I slid over into my butterfly. I was there, but he made a nice play. He hesitated, then moved over a little and I had to kind of open up and he put it through my five hole.”
The Sound Tigers continued to press early in the second period, but Zaba smothered the backhander of a wide-open Chris Lee at 4:10.
The Wolf Pack finally put together some sustained offense late in the period, but Lawson stopped Artem Anisimov breaking down the slot off a pass from Avery with 4:15 left, then stopped Tommy Pyatt at the right post a minute later.
Zaba then made bang-bang saves on Bentivoglio racing down left wing and Haley’s rebound with 2:20 left.
Things got testy on the Wolf Pack’s second power when Avery got in a yapping match with Lawson, who wasn’t happy the winger was in the crease, and then poked Tyler Haskins in the face along the boards without an official noticing it with 1:11 to go.
Zaba kept the Wolf Pack close when he stopped Haskins’ semi-breakaway at 3:35 of the third period.
The Sound Tigers had a goal disallowed with 7:20 left when Haley was called for goaltender inference before backhanding in his own rebound after Zaba stopped his partial breakaway.
The Wolf Pack then had their most sustained pressure of the game, but Lawson stopped Mike Ouellette’s one-timer from Avery with 1:15 left and Anisimov’s deflection with Zaba pulled for a sixth attacker.
“You have to have a heightened sense of emotion or intensity before the last 10 minutes,” Gernander said. “I’d like to see a heightened sense of urgency to start the game.”
Avery said he felt better than in his Wolf Pack debut Saturday night.
“As far as battles go and getting hits, it was better on the lungs than in the first game, so I’m happy about that,” said Avery, who had two shots and was on the ice for the only goal. “They were coming at me from the start of the game, and I was a little quiet, which takes a little away from my game. Then I started to give back a little of what I was getting, which makes me play better.
“I’m targeted, but I know I did it eight years ago. They’re all trying to get to the next level, so they wouldn’t be doing their job if they didn’t go after me. I’m not too happy about the loss, but I feel better for sure.”
Bridgeport 1 0 0 — 1
Hartford 0 0 0 — 0
First period: 1. Bri, McLean 14 (Callahan, Walter), 17:42; Penalty: Smith, Bri (hooking), 1:13.
Second period: No scoring. Penalties: Dupont, Hfd (interference), 10:38; Joensuu, Bri (tripping), 18:38.
Third period: No scoring. Penalty: Dupont, Hfd (hooking), 16:11.
Shots on goal: Bridgeport 18-7-7_32, Hartford 8-5-10_23; Power-play opportunities: Bridgeport 0-for-2, Hartford 0-for-2; Goalies: Bridgeport, Lawson 12-5-2-1 (23 shots-23 saves), Hartford, Zaba 11-8-0-0 (32-31); Referee: Ian Croft; Linesmen: Brent Colby, Kevin Redding; A: 3,583.