With just 15 games remaining in the regular season schedule, and currently sitting on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers know they can ill-afford to leave valuable points on the table.
The team's play has picked up over the past few weeks, although the record hasn't necessarily reflected that improvement. The Sound Tigers have four wins in their past eight games, but have lost three of those other four contests in overtime. Their only regulation loss in the eight-game span came in Manchester last Friday; after the team battled back with two third-period goals to tie the score at two, Manchester was awarded a power play in the final two minutes and converted to escape with a 3-2 victory.
The Sound Tigers enter play this weekend in 13th place in the Eastern Conference and six points out of the eighth and final playoff spot. However, the Sound Tigers will face the eighth-place Whale and ninth-place Devils once more each, and will square off against Worcester three more times.
THIS WEEKEND'S MATCHUPS
Friday, Mar. 22 - 7:05 PM at Providence Bruins
Bridgeport begins the three-in-three stretch in Providence tomorrow night against the Atlantic Division-leading Bruins. The Bruins have won the last four matchups between the two teams after the Sound Tigers earned two wins earlier in the season. Unlike Bridgeport, Providence has had good fortunes beyond regulation, entering the weekend as the only AHL team with no overtime losses and league-leading nine shootout victories.
Saturday, Mar. 23 - 7:00 PM - vs. Springfield Falcons
The rivalry between the Sound Tigers and Falcons has only grown this season with spirited battles in their six contests thus far. The Sound Tigers are 2-1-0-0 against the Falcons at Webster Bank Arena this season, and although they've had some struggles past regulation, that hasn't been the case against Springfield. The Sound Tigers have defeated the Falcons in a shootout in Springfield on Oct. 27, and earned overtime wins at Webster Bank Arena on Feb. 12 and Mar. 12. Springfield has a sizeable lead in the Northeast Division and is led by goaltender Curtis McElhinney, who recorded in ninth shutout of the season in a 2-0 win over Manchester on Wednesday.
Sunday, Mar. 24 - 3:00 PM vs. Albany Devils
The Sound Tigers close out their regular-season series against the Devlils on Sunday afternoon, marking the third matchup between the teams in just over two weeks. Bridgeport boasts a 4-1-0-0 record against Albany this season, and has won the last four contests between the two sides. Goaltender Rick DiPietro has been the key to both of the Sound Tigers most recent wins over the Devils. DiPietro made 25 saves in a 4-2 victory in Albany on Mar. 8, and followed that performance with a 33-save shutout this past Sunday in a 2-0 victory.
SOUND TIGERS KEYS TO VICTORY
1) Continue the strong play in net: The goaltending tandem of Rick DiPietro and Kenny Reiter has provided some of the team's best goaltending this season over the past three weekends. The Sound Tigers are tied for the most goals allowed in the AHL (198), but the defense and goaltending seem to have finally found their strides. The Sound Tigers have allowed more than two goals just twice over their past 10 games. A big part of the goaltending success has been a reduction in the shots the net-minders have faced. Bridgeport has outshot its opponent in 10 of its last 11 games, and has allowed 30 or more shots just four times in that span.
2) Win the special teams battles: The Sound Tigers special teams units have been inconsisent this season, and most recently the power play has had its struggles. Bridgeport went through a franchise-worst 0-for-41 spell on the man-advantage before a 5-on-3 power play goal in Albany on Mar. 8, but is just 1-for-16 since that game. The team's penalty kill is currently ranked 27th in the AHL at 80.3%, but hasn't allowed a power play goal over the past two games, and got a contribution from Brock Nelson's shorthanded, game-winning goal on Sunday. The Sound Tigers have won just five games this season without scoring a power play goal, and are 7-23-2-1 when allowing a power play goal.
3) Increased secondary scoring: Brock Nelson and Nino Niederreiter scored in the Sound Tigers 2-0 win over Albany on Sunday. Nelson boasts nine points in the team's last eight games, and Niederreiter has points in five of seven contests. Mike Halmo has netted four goals in his last 13 games, but Bridgeport will need increased production from its second and third lines in support of its goaltenders.