McElhinney ties club mark in win

( — Curtis McElhinney tied Manny Legace for the most shutouts in one season by a Springfield Falcons goaltender on Sunday evening at the XL Center, making 34 saves in a 5-0 victory over the Connecticut Whale to blank an opponent for the fifth time in the 2012-2013 campaign.

The Falcons (12-4-1-3), who have outscored the Whale 15-2 in two games in Hartford this year, pulled even with the Syracuse Crunch for first place in the Eastern Conference with the win.

Making their first road appearance against Connecticut since thrashing the Whale 10-2 on Nov. 4, the Falcons fired away again in the early stages of the contest, scoring three times in the opening period. Cam Atkinson put Springfield up 1-0, chipping in a rebound in the low slot created by a Jonathan Audy-Marchessault shot at 2:23 for his club-best 10th goal of the season.

Audy-Marchessault then set up Ryan Johansen with Springfield on its first power play to increase the Falcons’ lead to 2-0. Johansen snapped a puck to Audy-Marchessault, received it right back in the slot, and drove it by Connecticut goaltender Jason Missiaen at 12:16.

With the Falcons again working in Whale territory, John Moore guided a puck from the left point to the slot, looking for Matt Calvert‘s stick. Calvert redirected Moore’s slap pass past Missiaen’s glove at 16:02, extending the advantage to 3-0.

Nearing the halfway point of the second period, Springfield’s Sean Collins kept a puck in at the blue line to start another Falcons scoring play. Upon holding the zone at the left point, Collins skated to within a foot of the top of the left circle and wristed a puck by Missiaen’s glove, sneaking the shot inside the right post and making it 4-0 at 9:46.

Ryan Craig crashed the net at 14:09 of the final frame and knocked in a rebound generated by an Atkinson shot, closing out the scoring at 5-0 with Springfield’s second power-play conversion of the contest.

In achieving the milestone shutout, McElhinney turned in perhaps his best performance of the season. The eighth-year pro kept the puck out of the net on multiple Whale breakaways and two-on-one rushes, including a glove rob of Ryan Bourque right after Collins’ goal in the middle stanza. McElhinney (11-2-2) is atop the league with 11 wins and five shutouts at the close of the eighth week of play in 2012-13.

Legace, Springfield’s all-time leader with 67 wins and eight shutouts, posted five perfect games in 37 outings in 1995-96 to set the club mark. McElhinney has achieved the five-shutout barrier in just 16 appearances this season.

Missiaen (2-3-0) stopped 23 of Springfield’s 28 shots.