SOUND TIGERS 3, PIRATES 2
Bracken Kearns scored on a breakaway with 41.6 seconds remaining to help the Bridgeport Sound Tigers clinch their first playoff berth in four seasons, defeating the Portland Pirates 3-2 on Friday night at Cross Insurance Arena.
Kearns stripped defenseman Dylan Olsen of the puck just inside the Pirates blue line and walked in all alone on Mike McKenna. Kearns roofed a backhander over the blocker of the Portland netminder, pushing Bridgeport to the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
The two teams played a scoreless first period, with the Sound Tigers outshooting Portland 13-6 but failing to get on the board. Bridgeport also had a power play in the period, but only got a couple shots on McKenna.
Bridgeport got another power play opportunity in the second, but this one was a 5-on-3 for a full two minutes. Bridgeport took advantage, as James Wright took a pass from Mike Halmo and blasted a one-timer past McKenna to make it 1-0. The Sound Tigers took that one goal lead into the third period and took a 19-1-1-3 record when leading after two.
The start of the third period was less than ideal for Bridgeport, as Connor Brickley scored 57 seconds in to get Portland on the board. Brickley’s 11th of the season was just the start for the Pirates.
Just over three minutes later, the Pirates took their first lead of the game. Dylan Olsen threw a pass in front for Brett Olson and the forward tipped it in to make it 2-1 The play was reviewed as the puck looked to be close to the goal line, but it was deemed a good goal as the puck went all the way across.
Portland controlled much of the play in the third period, but a seeing-eye shot helped the Sound Tigers tie the game up. It was Matt Finn, who took a shot through a screen that somehow beat McKenna, to get the game back even at 2-2. Finn’s sixth of the season came from Jones and Markison and looked like it’d be the final marker of regulation.
However, Kearns had other ideas. His 23rd goal of the season set a new career-high in both goals and points, giving him 53 on the season. It was his first point since March 16 at Springfield and first goal since March 11 at Syracuse.
Stephon Williams came up big a couple times for Bridgeport, stopping 25 shots and earning second star honors. McKenna stopped 31 shots and was named the third star.
Michael Dal Colle made his professional debut and was credited with two shots including a Grade-A opportunity that was stopped by McKenna.
Bridgeport will not know its first round opponent Sunday night. The Sound Tigers finish off their road schedule with a 5:00 p.m. game at Albany against the Devils.
Dal Colle – Kearns – Wright
Halmo – Jones – Fritz
Florek – Holmstrom – Cliche
Johnston – Gomes – Markison
Czuczman – Mayfield
Lafranchise – Burroughs
Finn – Cullity