Syracuse, NY – The Hartford Wolf Pack won their season-high third straight game Wednesday night at the War Memorial Arena, defeating the Syracuse Crunch 5-4, in the Wolf Pack’s last game before Christmas.
Justin Fontaine had the third-period game-winner for the Wolf Pack, and added an assist, and Mat Bodie and Ahti Oksanen also had a goal and an assist each. Adam Erne, a native of New Haven, had a four-point night for the Crunch, with two goals and two assists.
“I think we’re taking time and space away,” said Fontaine of the key to the Wolf Pack’s recent success. “Our new forecheck’s working pretty well, with pinching the walls, and when other teams do that to us, we know it’s frustrating, as wingers. I think we’ve created a lot of turnovers, and that’s led to more scoring.”
The Wolf Pack got off to a slow start, taking two penalties in the first 7:11 and not getting their first shot on goal until the 9:41 mark, and the Crunch scored the game’s first goal at 16:08.
It was Erne putting Syracuse on top, as he collected his own rebound at the bottom of the right circle and rapped a shot past Wolf Pack goaltender Brandon Halverson (28 saves).
The Wolf Pack picked up their play after that, though, and would even things up with 17.4 seconds left in the period, on Ryan Graves’ fourth goal of the season. Michael Joly raced into the Syracuse zone and spun in the right-wing circle, before passing to Graves trailing the play. Graves cut in and beat Crunch netminder Adam Wilcox (19 saves) over the catching glove.
Hartford got its first power play 2:07 into the second period, on a hooking call against Joel Vermin, and just 16 seconds later, Luke Witkowski was called for delay-of-game, when his clear from his own zone went over the glass at the other end.
On the ensuing 5-on-3, Adam Tambellini would give the Wolf Pack the lead at 2:58, as he got a cross-slot pass from Justin Fontaine at the bottom of the right circle and easily put it into the net.
Bodie made it 3-1 Wolf Pack at 6:21, with his sixth goal of the season. After Allan McPherson lost an edge and fell down on the left side, Oksanen got the puck to Bodie at the point. Bodie moved to the middle, before cranking a slap shot that beat Wilcox to the stick side. McPherson got an assist on the play, for his first Wolf Pack point.
Brian Hart got that goal back for the Crunch 1:27 later, at 7:48, on a snap shot from the left circle that hit the top corner on Halverson’s glove side, but Oksanen restored the two-goal margin with 2:32 left in the period.
After Wilcox got an arm on a shot by Bodie, the puck found Oksanen on the left-wing boards and Wilcox got a piece of Oksanen’s long heave, but could not stop it. The goal was Oksanen’s second in the AHL, and second in the last two games.
Up 4-2 going into the third period, the Wolf Pack gave up a goal only 61 seconds into the third frame, in which they were outshot 13-4. Erne’s second of the game cut the lead to 4-3, as he jammed the puck between Halverson’s left skate and the goal post, after stickhandling up the middle past John Gilmour.
Fontaine answered that only 1:10 later, at 2:11, after Syracuse native Boo Nieves intercepted a Matthew Peca pass. Nieves fed from the left side to Fontaine, who patiently held the puck until Wilcox went down, and then put a forehand shot into the net.
That goal would turn out to be the difference, as Daniel Walcott tallied for Syracuse just 1:49 after that, at the four-minute mark. Yanni Gourde handed the puck to Walcott at the left side of the slot, and his shot went just inside the goal post to Halverson’s left.
Halverson held the Crunch off the rest of the way, though, despite Syracuse being able to lift Wilcox for an extra attacker for most of the final two-and-a-half minutes of the game.