The National Hockey League is currently on hiatus so that its top stars can compete in Russia at the Sochi Winter Olympics. That leaves the AHL has the top pro game active in the U.S. and Canada. And the Bridgeport Sound Tigers are taking full advantage, currently playing their best hockey of the season.
On Sunday, the good times continued to roll in the Park City as the Sound Tigers opened up a 3-0 lead in the game's first 13 minutes, then cruised to a 7-3 victory over the Albany Devils before 4,709 fans at the Webster Bank Arena. In a masterful display of balanced scoring, seven different players found the back of the net for the home side.
Matthew Pistilli opened the scoring with his first goal as a Sound Tiger. After Albany lost control of the puck in the neutral zone just in front of the Bridgeport blue line, Matt Donovan raced into the Devils zone and found Pistilli in the high slot, where the 6-2, 219-lb. wight wing from Montreal fired a wrist shot that Albany starting goaltender Scott Wedgewood, making it 1-0 Bridgeport 5:47 into the game.
The Sound Tigers doubled their lead less than a minute later when Aaron Ness beat Wedgewood with a wrister from the left circle at the 6:41 mark. Scott Mayfield assisted on Ness' fourth goal of the campaign.
The home team made it a three-goal lead when Ryan Strome, Bridgeport's lone representative at last week's AHL All-Star Classic, weaved through the Albany defense, then beat Wedgewood with a wrist shot from the center point at 13:07. Strome scored two goals in the All-Star Classic played in St. John's, Newfoundland, helping to lead the AHL All-Stars to a 7-2 win over Färjestad BK of the Swedish Hockey League.
The Devils got on the scoreboard late in the opening period when Raman Hrabarenka beat Sound Tigers' goalie Anders Nilsson from the right circle beat Nilsson, as Bridgeport went into the locker room leading 3-1 at the first intermission.
The Sound Tigers put the game away with two goals within 16 seconds to open the second period. Mayfield fired a shot on net from the top of the right circle that Johan Sundstrom, camped in front of the Albany net, deflected it past Wedgewood to make it 4-1 Bridgeport 2:03 into the middle stanza. Then, after winning the ensuing face-off, Jake Newton took a shot that Wedgewood stopped, but couldn't control. Andrew Clark gained control of the loose puck and pushed it past Wedgewood giving the Tigers a 5-1 lead. Wedgewood was replaced in goal at that point by Johan Hedberg.
Joe Whitney cut the Bridgeport lead to 5-2 with a goal at 6:55, a score that held into the second intermission.
Goals by Anders Lee and Scooter Vaughan opened up a 7-2 Bridgeport lead in the first half of the third period. Vaughn's goal was short-handed, and Hrabarenka registered his second tally of the contest on the same power play.
Nilsson turned aside 33 of the 36 shots he faced from the Devils. The Sound Tigers were 0-for-5 on the power play, but did have the short-handed goal from Vaughn, while Albany went 1-for-4 with the man advantage.
With the win, the Sound Tigers improve to 22-24-1-4. Albany falls to 26-17-3-5. Bridgeport, with three straight wins and eight victories in its last 10 games, still remains 11 points out of the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff slot.
Next up for the Sound Tigers will be a trip up I91 where they will take on their in-state archrivals, the Hartford Wolf Pack, on Friday. Face-off at the XL Center will be at 7 p.m. After a trip to Philadelphia to take on the Adirondack Phantoms on Saturday night, the Tigers will return to the Webster Bank Arena to entertain the Providence Bruins on Sunday. First puck drops at 3 p.m.