Hartford, CT – We’re only a few short weeks away from the playoffs and things have been getting heated on the ice as teams scramble to clinch their place in the race. No exception, the Hartford Wolf Pack (34-21-5-3) has been working hard to maintain their rankings in order to keep the season going. After a nice run on the road last week, the Pack returned home to the XL Center tonight to take on the Lehigh Valley Phantoms (29-25-6-1). In past games this season, the Wolf Pack have managed to dominate the ice, beating the Phantoms all three times. However, with this being the last meeting between the two and with the playoffs just around the corner, who knows what way the puck could go?
With Cedric Desjardins scratched due to an injury, Yann Danis got the start in the Wolf Pack goal tonight. Danis has been a pretty big staple to the team since his joining midway through the season, always being relatively reliable to keep the net safe. The Phantoms as well put one of their best in goal, Ontario native, Rob Zepp. Zepp has gained a lot of recognition as of late after making his NHL debut in December for the Philadelphia Flyers, saving 25 out of 28 shots on goal, Zepp led the Flyers to a 4-3 over time victory. Getting off on the right skate, the Wolf Pack seemed pretty determined to not let anything get in the way of a win. Physically, the Pack was on top of their game, and notably right-winger Carl Klingberg appeared to be all over the ice getting some great action. On the other side, Lehigh Valley seemed to be getting a slow start, failing to capitalize on a power play given to them early on.
With the Phantoms lagging behind, the Pack took clear advantage. It didn’t take too long for the team to put one in the net. Coming in hot at 12:44, Chris Mueller knocked one in on a power play that came from Lehigh Valley’s Brandon Manning high sticking penalty. Mueller has been on fire lately, scoring six points in last week’s games. Post-game, the right winger said, “[We] need to play desperate hockey from here on out, those six points put us back in the playoff race”. Minutes later at 15:44 Oscar Lindberg put another one in for the Pack, giving them the upper hand with a 2-0 lead to close the period. The goal also marked Lindberg’s 20th of the season.
Coming back for the second, the Phantoms seemed to pick up the pace a bit. An early goal by Cole Bardreau at 7:07 got Lehigh back in the game and tightened up the score gap. Not much action for the remainder of the second, the period ended with the Wolf Pack still in the lead 2-1.
Things started to really get going early in the third period. Lehigh picked up a power play only 16 seconds in after Chris Bourque was called for hooking. Despite the penalty, the Wolf Pack didn’t back down, a hard shot at 2:23 by Ryan Bourque gave the Pack a stronger lead. Firing back Lehigh took a straight, point blank shot at Danis, however, he was able to save it. After a lot of back and forth play, the Phantom’s Blair Jones, stuck one in the net at 8:19 allowing the struggling team to catch up a bit and narrow the score 3-2. Buckling down, the Wolf Pack kicked it into high gear for the duration of the period, but tight game resulted in a 4th straight win for the Pack.
A lot to be said post game by the victorious Wolf Pack, and a lot to be said about one another, nothing but compliments to their fellow teammates. “It’s been good,” Michael Kostka said about playing with fellow defenseman Conor Allen,” [Allen] has so much raw talent. You can see it, sometimes his natural ability just takes over.”
Mueller who’d gotten the first goal in tonight too had comments about his line mate’s, Chris, and Ryan Bourque. “I definitely play really well them,” he said. “We’ve been playing some good hockey, and we just need to continue this to close the season and get ready for the playoffs.”
It’s obviously safe to say that the playoffs are going to be on the top of every player’s mind going forward. For the rest of the weekend, the Wolf Pack will be on the road, playing the Springfield Falcons, followed by the Albany Devils. The Pack will be back home Friday, March 20th to take on the Providence Bruins.
1. Chris Mueller
2. Oscar Lindberg
3. Ryan Bourque