Bridgeport clinches home-ice advantage in the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs
WILKES-BARRE, Penn. - The Bridgeport Sound Tigers (43-24-6-3), proud AHL affiliate of the New York Islanders, defeated the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (35-30-7-3), 5-2, in their regular-season finale on Saturday and in doing so, clinched home-ice advantage in the first of the 2019 Calder Cup Playoffs.
Mitch Vande Sompel scored twice and Sebastian Aho collected three assists, while Christopher Gibson (22-11-5) made 21 saves in his 40th appearance of the season. Oliver Wahlstrom also had a goal and an assist to boost the Sound Tigers' offense at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza.
With the victory, the Sound Tigers secured a second-place finish in the Atlantic Division and will face the third-place Hershey Bears in the opening round of the postseason, which begins Friday, Apr. 19 at Webster Bank Arena. CLICK HERE for the first-round playoff schedule and ticket packages.
The Penguins got off to a fast start and made it 1-0 just 67 seconds into Saturday's finale courtesy of Ben Sexton's seventh goal of the season. Sam Lafferty skated to the left circle and fired a hard wrist shot that Gibson knocked down, but Sexton converted the rebound by sweeping the puck in from the doorstep.
Steve Bernier and the Sound Tigers responded quickly with the veteran's team-leading 24th goal of the season, and his team-best 10th on the power play. With Jan Drozg in the box for slashing, Aho set up in the high slot and guided a shot towards the crease that Bernier deflected past goaltender Alex D'Orio (in his pro debut) for the equalizer at 2:36. It came just 1:29 after Sexton's opening tally.
Vande Sompel gave Bridgeport its first advantage with another power-play goal at 18:09 of the first period. Chaos ensued nearly four minutes earlier when Patrick McGrath went head hunting on Ben Holmstrom and received a match penalty for a blatant hit in the Penguins zone. He also dropped the gloves with Kieffer Bellows, who confronted the Penguins forward in an effort to stand up for his captain. Lafferty also took a tripping penalty at the 17:03 mark and during the 5-on-3 power play, Vande Sompel slapped home his ninth goal of the season to make it 2-1.
Jake Lucchini tied the game at 2-2 early in the second period when he beat Gibson's blocker for his fifth goal of the year. Lafferty navigated a cross-ice pass from the right wing to the left circle, where Lucchini capitalized at the 6:09 mark.
Otto Koivula scored the eventual game-winner in the closing minutes of the second period to cap his extremely productive first regular season in the AHL. Grant Hutton sprung Bellows to create an odd-man rush into the Penguins' zone before Bellows directed a cross-ice pass to Koivula for a one-time goal, his 21st of the season at the 15:39 mark. With a helper, Hutton now has six points (one goal, five assists) in his last six games.
Wahlstrom made it 4-2 with his second pro goal at 13:25 of the third period - a remarkable individual effort into the offensive zone. Wahlstrom danced past Sam Miletic in the high slot, turning the Penguins forward inside out, and beat D'Orio's left pad with a quick release.
Just 26 seconds later, Vande Sompel completed the scoring with his second goal of the night and 10th of the season to make it 5-2. He received a pass from Connor Jones on the left wing and snapped a shot blocker side at the 13:51 mark.
Bridgeport outshot Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 33-23 and finished the game 2-fo-5 on the power play, and 2-for-3 on the penalty kill.
Next Time Out: The Sound Tigers will face the Hershey Bears in the opening round of the 2019 Calder Cup Playoffs, which begins Friday, Apr. 19 at 7 p.m. inside Webster Bank Arena. Fans can follow all of the live action via the Sound Tigers Radio Network and AHLTV, beginning with the pre-game show at 6:45 p.m.
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