The Connecticut Whale defeated the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, 3-0, in the first game of their best-of-five Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series Thursday night at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport.
Cameron Talbot recorded 42 saves in a stellar shutout performance, the most saves in franchise history in a postseason shutout, and Kelsey Tessier supplied the game-winning goal and an assist as the Whale won for the first time in Bridgeport this season.
“That’s playoff hockey, it’s going to be close-checking,” said Whale head coach Ken Gernander. “We have to be patient and keep with the game plan.
“I loved the third period. I thought they elevated the intensity, everything got elevated in the third.”
Game Two of the series will be Saturday night at the Webster Bank Arena (7:00 ET, AHL Live).
The Whale were in trouble early and often to begin the first period, affording the Sound Tigers two power-play opportunities within the first half of the frame, and three total in the period. Talbot was excellent for the Whale in the opening period, turning aside a number of up-close chances, including a great sprawling save on a Justin DiBenedetto opportunity.
Bridgeport’s Kevin Poulin (33 saves) was equally good, with each goaltender stopping ten first period shots.
The scoreless standoff would continue through the second period, as both Talbot and Poulin continued to keep any offense off the scoreboard. Both clubs would have close calls in the second, with a shorthanded odd-man rush involving Jonathan Audy-Marchessault and Kris Newbury being narrowly broken up, and an apparent Sound Tigers goal being waved off by the referee at the other end of the ice.
The Sound Tigers outshot the Whale, 15-13, in the second period.
Tessier would break the deadlock just 1:03 into the third, scoring on a breakaway to put the Whale ahead 1-0. Tim Erixon would split the Bridgeport defense with a great outlet pass, feeding Tessier. Erixon’s defense partner Jared Nightingale also assisted on the goal, which would prove the eventual game-winner.
“Awesome saucer pass right on my tape, I just had to put it in there,” said Tessier.
That line would score again at the 9:48 mark, as Owens backhanded a rebound past a sprawled Poulin for the 2-0 advantage. Poulin had stopped Bourque’s initial bid, but left an open opportunity for Owens.
Bourque would strike with a goal of his own with 6:42 remaining in the third period, putting home a rebound of Tessier’s shot. Pavel Valentenko grabbed the secondary assist on the score, a play that was very nearly an outstanding save Poulin.
Talbot would protect the lead the rest of the way, denying the Sound Tigers the chance to chip into the Whale lead with 17 third-period saves.
The Whale will look to up their series lead over the Sound Tigers in Game Two Saturday night in Bridgeport (7:00 ET, AHL Live). The series will shift to the XL Center Sunday night for Game Three (5:00 ET, AHL Live).