Saturday buzz: Wolf Pack rolling towards playoff berth

📝 by Patrick Williams

The Hartford Wolf Pack can’t lose lately.

Two goals in the opening 2:45 of play Friday night at the XL Center sent the Wolf Pack on their way to a 6-2 win against the Bridgeport Islanders and took their winning streak to six games. The victory also put the Wolf Pack five points up on Bridgeport for an Atlantic Division playoff spot, although the Islanders hold a game in hand.

Hartford has feasted on its in-state rival down the stretch, winning all five meetings between the clubs since Mar. 4 and outscoring the Islanders by a 29-10 margin.

Two March additions, defenseman Adam Clendening and forward Will Lockwood, notched Hartford’s opening pair of goals and later each picked up an assist as the Wolf Pack broke the game open. Ryan Carpenter scored his 11th goal in nine games against Bridgeport this season; he has nine goals in 39 games against the rest of the AHL.

Now the Wolf Pack are in position to clinch a playoff berth as early as tonight when they visit Providence. A trip to the Calder Cup Playoffs would be Hartford’s first since 2015. Bridgeport, meanwhile, welcomes Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to Total Mortgage Arena.

Help has arrived for the Belleville Senators as they fight for their season tonight.

Rookie forward Ridly Greig is expected to be back in the Belleville lineup tonight as the Sens welcome the Cleveland Monsters to CAA Arena. Three points behind the Monsters for the North Division’s fifth and final playoff spot and with four games to go in the regular season, the B-Sens need a win desperately, particularly a clean regulation win.

It had originally been reported two weeks ago that Greig was to miss the rest of the season with a sternum injury. However, the 20-year-old rookie, a first-round pick by Ottawa in the 2020 NHL Draft, instead returned to action and went on to play four games with the NHL club. He had a goal and played a career-high 16:49 in a loss at Florida on Thursday.

For Belleville, Greig’s return adds a top scoring threat and someone capable of playing the agitator role that can put the AHL’s 13th-ranked power play to work when opponents are drawn into penalties. This season Greig has 13 goals and 27 points in 35 games with Belleville. He last skated for the B-Sens on March 11 before Ottawa recalled him four days later.

Since taking a 4-1 win at Cleveland on March 18, the B-Sens have gone 1-3-0-3 across a seven-game stretch. One of those shootout losses came Wednesday on home ice, a 1-0 setback to the Monsters despite 41 saves from netminder Mark Sinclair in his AHL debut.

Belleville has also gotten Leevi Merilainen back from Ottawa. The 20-year-old Merilainen turned in a 41-save shutout in his AHL debut last Saturday night at home against Toronto, then made his NHL debut on Tuesday.

The Monsters will be without four players who skated in Friday night’s 5-4 win at Laval, as defensemen David Jiricek and Marcus Bjork along with forwards Trey Fix-Wolansky and Joona Luoto were all summoned by Columbus. Fix-Wolansky, who ranks fifth in AHL scoring with 69 points (28 goals, 41 assists) in 57 games, scored twice against the Rocket last night.

The defending Calder Cup champion Chicago Wolves have made up for lost time in the season’s second half.

Last in the Central Division at the AHL All-Star break and 13 points out of a playoff spot, Chicago has gone on an 18-10-1-2 (.629) charge that has closed the gap to two points. The Wolves opened a home-and-home series with Iowa last night with a 4-1 road decision, moving their point streak to seven games (6-0-1-0). Ryan Suzuki contributed two goals while Mackenzie MacEachern supplied a goal and two assists.

Chicago hosts the Wild tonight just two points away from the fifth-place spot (five Central Division teams qualify for the postseason) held by Rockford. The IceHogs pulled out a 3-2 win at Milwaukee on Friday to hold that two-point edge. Both the IceHogs and Wolves have five games left on their respective schedules.

Despite major lineup losses, the San Jose Barracuda will not go away.

Missing top forwards Thomas Bordeleau (on recall to the San Jose Sharks) and William Eklund (season-ending shoulder surgery), the Barracuda managed to secure a point in a 4-3 overtime loss to Colorado last night. That result closed them to within three points of Tucson for the Pacific Division’s seventh and final playoff spot; the Roadrunners suffered a 7-3 loss to Texas at home on Friday night.

Both clubs have rematches tonight: the Barracuda meet the Eagles again in San Jose, while Tucson hosts Texas, the Central Division leader. San Jose and Tucson close out the regular season against each other with two games at Tucson Arena next weekend.