The Bridgeport Report: Week 24
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. - The Bridgeport Sound Tigers (37-20-5-2), proud AHL affiliate of the New York Islanders, completed a five-game road trip and opened an even longer homestand last weekend, splitting a pair of matchups in the Atlantic Division.
John Stevens, Travis St. Denis and Jeff Kubiak all had more than one point and Jeremy Smith posted his first shutout with Bridgeport on Sunday, helping the club lower its magic number to 15 - a combination of points the Sound Tigers must collect or the fifth-place team fails to earn in order for Bridgeport to clinch a berth in the 2019 Calder Cup Playoffs.
On Saturday, the Sound Tigers ended their lengthy road trip with a 5-1 loss to the Hershey Bears at Giant Center. Steve Bernier matched a career high with his team-leading 21st goal of the season, but the AHL's top goal-scorer Riley Barber had two for the Bears and Mike Sgarbossa recorded a game-high four points (one goal, three assists). It dropped the Sound Tigers to 16-15-3-1 on the road this season and 3-2-0-0 against Hershey.
Less than 24 hours later, Bridgeport opened a season-long eight-game homestand with a 4-0 St. Patrick's Day shutout against the Springfield Thunderbirds at Webster Bank Arena. Smith was lights out between the pipes, making 29 saves for his first shutout with the Sound Tigers and his first overall since Mar. 26, 2016. Offensively, Kubiak and Chris Casto each scored at even strength, while Stevens and Chris Bourque added empty-net tallies in the final three minutes to solidify Bridgeport's seventh straight win at home. It was also the team's 11th straight victory on a Sunday dating back to Nov. 4.
The Sound Tigers continue their homestand with a trio of games this week, all against North Division opponents. In fact, it's the only opportunity fans will have to see affiliates of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators and Tampa Lightning at Webster Bank Arena this season. Bridgeport will host the defending champion Toronto Marlies (34-21-6-4) on Wednesday night before welcoming the Belleville Senators (32-25-3-5) and Syracuse Crunch (40-17-4-2) to the Park City this weekend.
Fans can follow all of the action online via the Sound Tigers Radio Network and AHLTV, beginning with the pre-game show 15 minutes before each listed start time.
The week ahead:
Wednesday, Mar. 20 vs. Toronto Marlies (7 p.m.): The Sound Tigers face Toronto for the second time in 10 days and their only matchup at Webster Bank Arena this season. Bridgeport will attempt to sweep the two-game series following a 3-2 shootout win north of the border on Sunday, Mar. 10. Jeff Kubiak and Josh Ho-Sang each scored that day and Otto Koivula secured the victory with his first shootout-winner in the AHL. Wednesday's game also features a "1-2-3" food and beverage special, including $1 hot dogs, $2 popcorn boxes and $3 bottled Pepsi products. Tickets are on sale now!
Saturday, Mar. 23 vs. Belleville Senators (7:30 p.m.): The Sound Tigers have teamed up with Make-A-Wish Connecticut for the second straight season in an effort to support local children in need. Saturday's "Make-A-Wish" Night will benefit this great organization, helping to grant future wishes of kids in Connecticut just like 12-year-old Kaden . In addition, the first 2,000 fans will receive a set of Sound Tigers trading cards, including notable Islanders draft picks and other top prospects from 2018-19. Bridgeport will face Belleville for the final time this season, looking to sweep the two-game series. Get tickets now!
Sunday, Mar. 24 vs. Syracuse Crunch (5 p.m.): The Sound Tigers host Syracuse for the first and only time this season on Sunday, which completes a two-game series. It's also Bridgeport's third straight game against a North Division team. The Crunch earned a 3-1 win their last tilt on Jan. 4, in which Otto Koivula had the Sound Tigers' lone tally midway through the third period. Off the ice, take advantage of 50-cent chicken wings and $5 16oz. beers (drafts and cans) at the Mason's Bar, located on the third floor of Webster Bank Arena. Tickets are available now!
News and Notes:
Smith Stands Out: Jeremy Smith has stopped 69 of the last 71 shots he's faced over two games (.972), including a 29-save effort on Sunday en route to his first shutout of the season. He also made a season-high 40 saves against Toronto on Mar. 10. The 10th-year netminder has won five of his last six decisions since Feb. 22, with a 1.65 goals-against-average and .946 save percentage in those wins. Smith, who signed a two-way (NHL/AHL) contract for the remainder of the season on Feb. 24, leads Bridgeport with 19 victories in 36 appearances this season, which is tied for eighth on the team's all-time single-season wins list.
Sunday Funday: The Sound Tigers continue a stretch of eight straight Sundays with a game this weekend, but that's been more than ok. Bridgeport is an impressive 13-1-1-0 in Sunday games this season and has won 11 straight dating back to Nov. 4. The club has also outscored opponents 58-38 on Sunday afternoons as they gear up for Syracuse this weekend, which leads the AHL in goal-differential overall (+63). Steve Bernier leads the way with 10 of his team-leading 21 goals coming on a Sunday.
Home Cookin': Nine of the team's final 11 games will take place at Webster Bank Arena, where the Sound Tigers have won seven in a row for the season time this season (also Oct. 19 - Nov. 11). In addition, Bridgeport leads all AHL teams in winning percentage at home (77.6%) as it continues an eight-game homestand against Toronto on Wednesday. The Sound Tigers haven't lost at home since a 7-5 setback to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Feb. 1.
Leading the Way: Veteran winger Chris Bourque continues to lead the Sound Tigers in scoring through 64 games this season. His 47 points (14 goals, 33 assists) are tied for 37th in the AHL and he also leads Bridgeport in shots (144), power-play points (18), game-winning goals (5) and shootout goals (4). Bourque is attempting to lead his AHL club in scoring for the fourth time in the last five years and remains the AHL's all-time active leading scorer (23rd all-time) with 739 career points - two behind Rene Drolet for 22nd place. His goal on Sunday was his 250th in the AHL.
Quick Hits : Steve Bernier's next goal will set a new career high for the 14th-year veteran... He currently sits second in the AHL in shooting percentage (25%)... Josh Ho-Sang leads Bridgeport in points per game (0.79, minimum of 35 games played)... Otto Koivula has gone five straight games without a point, but continues to rank ninth among AHL rookies in scoring (40 points)... Sebastian Aho has gone eight straight games without a point, but is 11th among AHL blue-liners in scoring (38 points)... Tanner Fritz had one assist on Sunday, tying Alan Quine (2015-19) for seventh place on the team's all-time assists list (86 career helpers)... Fritz is also 10th on the Sound Tigers' all-time scoring list (129 points)... Bridgeport is 6-4-1-1 against the North Division this season.
Goals: Steve Bernier (21)
Assists: Chris Bourque (33)
Points: Chris Bourque (47)
Plus/Minus: Otto Koivula (+15)
Penalty Minutes: Seth Helgeson (113)
Power-play goals: Steve Bernier (9)
Shots: Chris Bourque (144)
Wins: Jeremy Smith (19)
* Currently on recall with the New York Islanders (NHL)
The New York Islanders (42-23-7) won three of their four games last week to reclaim first place in the Metropolitan Division, tied with the Washington Capitals at 91 points this season. The Isles last played on Sunday and captured a 3-2 overtime win against the Minnesota Wild on the road, in which former Sound Tiger and Minnesota native Brock Nelson scored the game-winner at 1:04 of the extra frame. Former Sound Tiger Anders Lee also found the back of the net by tipping Devon Toews' shot for his team-leading 27th goal this season. New York returns to action tonight with a 7 p.m. matchup against the Boston Bruins at NYCB Live.
The ECHL's Worcester Railers H.C. (30-24-5-4) have climbed to fifth place in the North Division and are just one point out of a playoff spot with nine games remaining. The team has won seven of its last nine games, but suffered a 7-4 loss to the Manchester Monarchs in their last outing on Sunday, despite goals from former Sound Tigers Matt Gaudreau, David Quenneville and Ryan MacKinnon. The Railers also played last Friday and Saturday and earned a pair of wins against the Monarchs and Maine Mariners, respectively. Worcester returns to action this Friday with a 7:05 p.m. home game against Maine.
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