WILKES-BARRE TWP. – For much of Saturday night’s game, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers rode the strength of the power play.
But like a flash of lightning, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins sizzled with some power of their own.
Chris Minard rallied the Penguins with two quick-strike goals in the third period, and his second completed an inspiring comeback as Wilkes-Barre/Scranton burned Bridgeport, 5-4 in an AHL East Division showdown at Wachovia Arena.
“It was great,” Minard said, who tied a team record by scoring a goal in his fifth straight game. “That third period kind of felt like a playoff game.”
It’s way too early to starting talking playoffs, but never too soon to begin mapping out a path to get there. And since Saturday’s victory moved the Penguins into third place in the East and pulled them within five points of Bridgewater, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was pretty pleased with the result.
Especially since it followed Friday’s victory over the Philadelphia Phantoms, meaning the Penguins knocked off a division nemesis for the second straight night.
“We hadn’t beaten that team yet this year,” Minard said. “Confidence-wise, I think we needed to beat them. We want to catch these teams. You have to beat the teams that are ahead of you.”
“It’s divisional time,” said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. “We’ve got a stretch where we play a lot of divisional games. You need to win these games to move up in the standings.”
Minard moved the Penguins into better position in the East with timing that couldn’t have been better.
Just 14 seconds after teammate Nick Johnson’s goal tied the game early in the third period, Minard smoked the go-ahead goal past Bridgeport goalie Peter Mannino to give the Penguins their first lead.
When they lost that to a short-handed goal by Bridgeport’s Jason Pitton with 8:47 to play, Minard took just six seconds to give the lead back to the Penguins on what proved to be the game-winner.
“I had a chance to shoot the puck and I shot it,” Minard shrugged.
“It’s Chris Minard in his spot,” Bylsma said. “He works long and hard on getting open and getting in that spot.”
The Penguins worked long into Saturday night to pull out the victory.
Jeff Taffe kept the Penguins in the game by scoring the team’s first two goals in the first period, then he finished off his second consecutive four-point night by registering assists on both of Minard’s goals in the final period. And Ryan Stone registered three assists.
“It was actually a good game, I thought, from a fans’ standpoint,” Taffe said. “They like seeing goals.”
Both teams certainly provided enough of them.
The pace was fast and furious from the start, as both teams combined for 15 shots on goal in the opening period.
Bridgeport struck first, when Trevor Smith found the net on a power play goal just under six minutes into the game.
The Penguins found an immediate answer, when less than three minutes later, Stone threaded a beautiful pass to Taffe, who deflected home his first of two goals in the period to tie the game.
Brett Skinner, who registered an assist on Bridgeport’s first goal, scored one himself on another power play midway through the first period. But with 56 seconds to intermission, Taffe lit up the net with a game-tying slapshot from beyond the right circle.
In the middle of this scoring spree, Aaron Boogard scored a unanimous decision.
Bridgeport’s Michael Haley, giving away about five inches in height, bobbed and weaved like a heavyweight boxer as he squared off with Boogard just as the puck dropped following Taffe’s first goal.
Boogard pummeled his opponent with such a beating, it bloodied Haley’s nose and sent him to the locker room for treatment.
Although the action continued non-stop through the second period, the scoring slowed. That is, until Smith found the net again for Bridgeport with less than a minute left until the second intermission, giving the Sound Tigers a 3-2 lead.
But that only set up a furious back-and-forth final period, where Minard finished a flurry.
“Both teams came with pressure,” Minard said. “It was exciting, probably one of the better games we played all season.”
Notes: Reid Cashman registered an assist in his first game back with the Penguins. He replaced Tim Wallace who was recalled to parent Pittsburgh earlier Saturday.