Nino Niederreiter opened the game with two quick goals, while David Ullstrom chipped in with a goal and three assists and Johan Sundstrom added three assists, to lead the Bridgeport Sound Tigers to a 5-2 victory over the Connecticut Whale, before 6,934 fans at the Arena at Harbor Yard on Wednesday night. It was the traditional “game after Christmas” for the in-state archrivals.
Niederreiter staked the home team to an early 1-0 advantage when he banged in a rebound of an Ullstrom backhander past Connecticut netminder Cam Talbot just 63 seconds into the contest.
Niederreiter doubled Bridgeport’s lead with his second goal of the opening frame, beating Talbot on another rebound in traffic at the 7:04 mark. Sundstrom was credited with assists on both goals. It was Niederreiter’s 15th goal of the season—fourth most in the American Hockey League.
The Tigers’ lead grew to 3-0 when Bridgeport captain Colin McDonald scored on the power play—a one-timer from the low slot midway through the opening frame. It was the fifth goal of the campaign for the New Haven native.
Bridgeport added to the lead late in the middle frame when Sundstrom’s wraparound attempt popped into the air at the top of the crease, bouncing off the stick of Matt Watkins before hitting the back of a Whale defenseman and trickling over the goal line. It was Watkins’ fifth marker of the season, and Sundstrom’s third helper of the evening, giving Bridgeport a comfortable 4-0 advantage after two periods.
The Whale finally got on the scoreboard and actually cut the Bridgeport margin in half with two quick goals in the third period. Marek Hrivik wrapped a rebound past Sound Tigers’ goalie Kevin Poulin to cut the Bridgeport advantage to 4-1 3:43 into the final frame. Blake Parlett then deflected Chad Kolarik’s shot from the slot past Poulin to cut the Sound Tigers advantage to two with 12:53 left in regulation. But it was too little, too late as Poulin and the Bridgeport defense applied the brakes down the stretch, and Ullstrom added an empty-netter as the buzzer sounded to give Bridgeport the 5-2 victory. Ullstrom’s four points tied McDonald’s four-point output against Syracuse on Dec. 9 for most points in a game by a Sound Tiger this season.
Poulin finished the game with 27 saves, while Talbot turned aside 24 Bridgeport shots between the pipes for the Whale.
With the win, the Sound Tigers improve to 14-12-1-2, and are six points behind first-place Springfield in the AHL Northeast Division standings. Fourth-place Connecticut falls to 12-15-2-0, 11 points off the Falcons’ pace.
“Our gameplan was to come out strong and be physical,” said Sound Tigers Head Coach Scott Pellerin after the game. “It was a big effort for us to solidify that win.”
The two teams now head to Hartford to wrap up their home-and-home series on Thursday night. First puck drops at 7 p.m. at the XL Center.
“He’s certainly solidified his game,” Pellerin said of Poulin, who finished the game with 25 saves. “He’s worked hard in practice and elevated his game. I’m really proud of the way he’s competed not only in practice, but also in games and he’s getting big wins for us.”
The Sound Tigers close out the home-and-home series with the Whale tomorrow night at the XL Center. Game time is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. Tickets start at $12 and are available at the XL Center box office, through TicketMaster Charge-by-Phone at 1-800-745-3000 and on-line at www.ticketmaster.com.