To close out the month of February, the Devils hit the road for a 4 game swing through 3 cities, with Bridgeport bookending the trip. Not a bad showing, a 2-2 mark that helped catapult them into the Eastern Conference playoff picture, if just by a few points. Let’s rewind:
2/20 at Bridgeport: 3-0 L
The week began with a President’s Day matinee game in southern Connecticut against the Sound Tigers, a team that was ahead of the Devils by 3 points at the beginning of the day thanks to a 15 of 17 streak to begin the 2012 calendar year. Albany had plenty of chances to get on the board in the first period, thanks to three power play chances (including a 1:07 5 on 3), but could not get anything on Bridgeport goaltender Anders Nilsson. The other story from the first period was defenseman Alexander Urbom leaving the game with an injury, he did not return. Second period the Sound Tigers started to take over the game…Kael Mouillierat broke the scoreless tie 4 minutes into the period. Just over a minute later Tomas Marcinko boarded Tim Sestito and was given a major and game misconduct (Sestito was banged up but stayed in the game), earning the Devils a 5 minute power play chance which they could not capitalize on. Bridgeport took a 2-0 lead on a Blair Riley goal that bounced off the skate of Jeff Frazee and into the net. To add to the special teams misery (0 for 7 on the power play for the day; but a perfect 6 for 6 on the PK), Sean Backman scored a shorthanded goal 7 minutes into the 3rd for a 3-0 Bridgeport lead. Nilsson shut the door from there, stopping all 26 Albany shots. Frazee turned aside 35 of 38 shots in the loss.
2/24 at Syracuse: 3-1 W
The road trip continued west down the Thruway with another matchup against the Crunch (the third matchup in 13 days). Considering the near makeshift lineup on the ice for Albany after Monday’s injury filled contest in Bridgeport, they held their own quite nicely. Both goaltenders, Keith Kinkaid and Iiro Tarkki, kept both teams off the scoresheet in the first period, despite a 15-8 advantage in shots for Syracuse. Midway through the second, a somewhat controversial goal put the Crunch on the board first. While Dan Kelly was down after a hit, the referee for some reason did not call the play dead. Peter Holland would take advantage and score for a 1-0 lead. That lead would be short lived, however…with former Devil Mark Fraser off for boarding Steve Zalewski, Eric Gelinas came through on the power play yet again, getting one past Tarkki to tie it up at 1. That’s how it would stay until late in the third, thanks to some Syracuse penalty trouble. With under 90 seconds remaining in regulation, and on their fifth power play chance of the night, Mattias Tedenby (with of course help from Gelinas) puts one past Tarkki for a 2-1 Devil lead. Vladimir Zharkov would put the cherry on top with an empty netter 24 seconds later to seal it. Kinkaid turned in another solid performance, stopping 33 of 34 Crunch shots.
2/25 at Manchester: 3-1 W
Next stop, all the way back east to New Hampshire for the Devils only visit to the Monarchs this season. It started out as another goaltending duel, this time it was Jeff Frazee and Martin Jones. But unlike the night before, Albany outshot the opponent, this time by a 15-14 margin. Second period the Devils started to take control. Early on Eric Gelinas struck again on the power play, scoring his second PPG in as many nights to put Albany on the board first. Steve Zalewski would make it a 2-0 lead with an even strength goal 10 minutes later. Justin Azevedo would break up Frazee’s shutout bid with just 1 minute left in the period for a 2-1 game. Third period, things started to get interesting. Manchester would receive quite a few chances to tie things up, as referee Dave Lewis got just a little whistle happy with the Devils. The Monarchs received SIX power play opportunities–including 2 5 on 3 situations–but Frazee and the defense stopped everything, some by the slimmest of margins. With 59 seconds left in the game, Vladimir Zharkov would add his second empty netter of the weekend (I believe it’s his fourth in the last two weeks) to seal the 3-1 win. Frazee had an outstanding night, rebounding from the loss in Bridgeport…he stopped 38 shots and deservedly earned #1 star of the game honors. Joe Whitney added two assists (on both second period goals).
2/26 at Bridgeport: 3-2 L
While I was in New Jersey watching the big club lose to the Martin St. Louis show…I mean, the Lightning…Albany finished off the road trip right where it started, in Bridgeport. Another scoreless first period to start this one out between Keith Kinkaid and Anders Nilsson, with the Sound Tigers outshooting the Devils 15-10. Second period was all Devils, as they scored twice and outshot Bridgeport 12-7. Peter Harrold would get the Devils on the board first with another power play goal (per the Devils PR Twitter it’s their 10th power play goal in 10 games) for a 1-0 advantage. Late in the period Mike Hoeffel would give the Devils a 2 goal cushion. At this point I’m thinking (as I’m checking updates on the bus ride home from Newark) Kinkaid can take care of the rest. Well…not so fast. Third period was all Sound Tigers, and it started from a very unlikely source. Two and a half minutes into the 3rd period Trevor Gillies (yes, that Trevor Gillies) somehow got the puck past Kinkaid to put Bridgeport on the board. Under 4 minutes later, Aaron Ness would tie the game up at 2 on an even strength goal. He wasn’t finished, however…while on a power play 7 minutes later, he scored the go ahead goal to put Bridgeport up 3-2. Kinkaid stopped 31 of 34 shots in a losing cause, while Darcy Zajac assisted on both Albany goals. And I’m curious to find out how Myles Stoesz fared against Gillies in a first period fight…
-Other than the busy Friday which saw three players shipped off to Minnesota for Marek Zidlicky (who I got to see make his Devil debut today), one additional roster move came down Saturday when Peter Harrold was reassigned to Albany after Zidlicky’s arrival. He did make it to Manchester in time to play Saturday night.
-Injury update: where to begin? Chad Wiseman sat out the weekend, still waiting to find out why. Alexander Urbom, Mike Banwell, and Tim Sestito were all banged up in Monday’s loss to Bridgeport, they sat out the weekend as well. Nathan Perkovich served his 3 game suspension and should return Friday night. No new updates on Jay Leach or Matt Anderson.
Another 3 in 3 weekend to start off the month of March, but this time it’s all at home. Friday night Bridgeport visits for the third matchup in 11 days between the two teams. Saturday afternoon it’s another Time Warner Cable Cup matchup (with Tom on the shelf, the Sestito Cup is suspended indefinitely) against Adirondack (and hopefully they don’t bring the flu bug with them, apparently at least 3 players sat out over the weekend because of it), then Sunday afternoon another visit from Syracuse (apparently March is a big repeat the opponent month). After today the Devils have a slim lead over division rival Springfield for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, so every point counts as we go into the homestretch of the season.