AHL Weekly Release: Sound Tigers catch Bears in East


bri06_200.jpgSPRINGFIELD, Mass. … Exactly four weeks ago – on the morning of Feb. 9 – the Bridgeport Sound Tigers sat fourth in the AHL’s East Division, 13 points back of first-place Hershey.

But the Sound Tigers have roared to an 11-1-0-3 mark over the last month and are now even with the Bears as they eye their first division title since their inaugural 2001-02 season.

Fresh off a sweep of Binghamton, Philadelphia and Hartford during a three-game weekend at home, Bridgeport shows a 39-18-3-5 mark overall, good for 86 points. With 15 games left in the regular season, the Sound Tigers are well en route to their first Calder Cup Playoff berth since 2006.

Bridgeport has needed contributions up and down the roster during the recent surge, as a remarkable 19 different players have already appeared in a game for both the Sound Tigers and parent New York Islanders this season.

Mike Iggulden, who has already clinched his fourth 20-goal season in as many AHL campaigns, continues to lead the Sound Tigers in scoring with 58 points overall (23-35-58) and recorded his first three career NHL points (all assists) in two games with the Islanders over the weekend. Kurtis McLean, who was recalled to Long Island on Sunday, ranks second on Bridgeport with 52 points (15-37-52), and second-year pro Trevor Smith’s 50 points include a team-high 27 goals.

Rookie forward Jesse Joensuu has 31 points (17-14-31) and a team-best plus-20 rating for the season, and he netted a goal in his NHL debut for the Islanders on Mar. 2. Ben Walter battled an early-season injury and has put up 39 points (15-24-39) through 50 games; fourth-year pro Jeremy Colliton’s 30 points (8-22-30) are his highest total since his rookie campaign in 2005-06; and rookie Tyler Haskins has eight points (5-3-8) in his last nine games, including a goal in three straight.

Bridgeport received a boost last week when 358-game NHL veteran Jon Sim was assigned by the Islanders. Sim, a Calder Cup champion with Philadelphia in 2005 and the MVP of the 2003 AHL All-Star Game, already has racked up four goals and five points in his first three games with the Sound Tigers.

The Sound Tigers rank first in the Eastern Conference allowing 2.52 goals per game. Defensemen Andrew MacDonald, Jack Hillen and Joe Callahan have each made an impact in Bridgeport and seen action with the Islanders, while Jamie Fraser (plus-14) and captain Mark Wotton (plus-13) lead Tigers blueliners in plus/minus.

In the nets, Nathan Lawson is 4-0-2 in his last six decisions and ranks second in the AHL with a 1.81 goals-against average in 25 appearances (15-7-2), and fellow rookie Peter Mannino has won three of four decisions since rejoining Bridgeport on Feb. 23.

Head coach Jack Capuano’s Sound Tigers have a largely favorable schedule on paper down the stretch; of their remaining 15 games, nine are against teams currently on the outside of the playoff picture. After a stretch of four road games in five nights this week – capped by a visit to Hershey on Sunday – Bridgeport will play eight of its last 11 on home ice, where it is a gaudy 22-6-1-3 this season.

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ATLANTIC RACE REMAINS FLUID … The Atlantic Division is still anyone’s for the taking as the season heads for its final month, with just 12 points separating co-leaders Providence and Hartford from sixth-place Lowell.

Hartford went on a seven-game winning streak from Feb. 20 to Mar. 4, its longest run since capturing nine straight to begin the 2004-05 campaign. The Wolf Pack, who spent a couple of days in the division cellar in mid-December, briefly claimed sole possession of first place on Saturday night and are in pursuit of their first division crown since 2003-04.

Manchester, which was in sixth place when the calendar turned to March, is just four points out of first place on the strength of a current six-game winning streak, matching its season high. The Monarchs have a 15-4-0-1 mark since the All-Star break and are in the process of playing 25 of their final 26 games within the division.

Portland leads Worcester by two points and Lowell by five in the race for the Atlantic’s fourth and final postseason entry.

MONSTERS RISING INTO THE RACE … The Lake Erie Monsters are making a strong late-season bid for their first-ever Calder Cup Playoff berth. The Monsters, who were 13 points out of a playoff spot on Feb. 19, have won eight of nine games since to close within five points of fourth-place Toronto in the North Division.

Lake Erie put an exclamation point on a three-win weekend at home with a 6-3 triumph over Eastern Conference powerhouse Hershey on Sunday.

Matt Hendricks, a Calder Cup Finalist with the Bears in 2007, has scored a goal in six of his last seven games (7-2-9) for the Monsters, including three game-winning tallies. Rookie winger T.J. Galiardi is riding a four-game scoring streak (2-5-7), and veteran goaltender Jason Bacashihua has backstopped Lake Erie with a personal eight-game winning streak (1.60, .934).

ETC. … Powered by a six-point effort on Wednesday vs. Providence, Jiri Tlusty finished the week with 36 points (16-20-36) in his last 18 games for Toronto… Darren Haydar has 28 points in his last 17 games for Grand Rapids to climb to fourth on the AHL scoring chart… John Curry set a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton franchise record by winning his 49th career game (49-24-3) on Sunday against Norfolk… Manitoba second-year pro Michael Grabner scored three times in the Moose’s two-game weekend sweep of Providence, pushing the former first-round draft pick past his rookie-year total with 24 tallies this season (24-13-37)… Manchester rookie goaltender Jonathan Bernier has earned the victory in all six games of the Monarchs’ current winning streak (1.15, .956)… Peoria rookie defenseman Ivan Vishnevskiy, a first-round pick by Dallas in 2006, had netted three goals in his first 52 games this season before scoring three times in as many contests last week… Hamilton goaltender Cedrick Desjardins had his shutout streak snapped at 148:35 in Sunday’s 4-3 loss to Toronto… Hershey’s Keith Aucoin saw his assist streak end at 14 games on Sunday, three shy of the AHL record… Norfolk’s Justin Keller has 14-10-24 in 27 home games this season, and 0-3-3 in 16 road contests… Bridgeport’s 3-2 shootout victory over Philadelphia on Saturday was the Sound Tigers’ eighth straight home win over the Phantoms… Portland has led after the first period in just 11 of its 63 games this season (9-1-0-1), and division-rival Lowell has led after 20 minutes in 11 of its 62 contests (9-1-0-1)… Quad City edged Milwaukee in the 15th round of a shootout on Sunday, falling one short of the AHL-record 16-round shootout between Cleveland and Utah on Dec. 3, 2004… The Flames are 7-0-0-1 in eight home games since a 3-2 loss to Peoria on Feb. 6… Peoria has pulled within one point of a playoff spot on the strength of its first four-game winning streak since Jan. 23-31, 2008… The AHL’s Clear Day deadline, when all 29 teams must submit their 22-man Clear Day lists, is set for this Wednesday, March 11, at 3:00 ET; only those players listed on a team’s Clear Day roster are eligible to compete in the remainder of the AHL regular season and in the 2009 Calder Cup Playoffs, unless emergency conditions arise as a result of recall, injury or suspension.