Nutmeg State Battle

Bridgeport missed the playoffs last year and the Whale were out the year before, and before that the Whale and Sound Tigers were in different divisions for six seasons, so it’s been a while since the Connecticut rivalry had much effect on a playoff race.

This year, though, it’s looking for all the world like it might be a battle between the two Nutmeg State teams for the top spot in the Northeast Division.  That’s a key goal too, because as it stands right now, when you fall out of first place in the division, you plummet right from one of the guaranteed top three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference to a clutch of teams battling for their playoff lives around the 6-8 spots.

Both teams have had their lulls and spurts this year, but both have been hot lately, especially the Sound Tigers.  It was looking like another long year for the Islander farmhands, after last season’s edition finished second-to-last in the league and 17 points out of a playoff spot.  They won only two games out of 14 from November 26 to New Year’s Eve and were five games below .500 at the turn of the year, 12-17-3-1, and were in last place in the conference with 28 points.  All Brent Thompson’s club did after that was rip off an eight-game winning streak, and get at least a point in 12 straight (11-0-0-1) and 16 of their next 17 (15-1-0-1), to put themselves in the forefront of the playoff picture.

The Whale had a tough January while the Sound Tigers were surging, but at least Connecticut got points in five of the 11 January games they didn’t win, keeping their heads above water before they went on a run starting with the first of February.  Sunday’s 4-3 loss in Providence finally put a regulation L next to the Whale’s name in February, but before that they had been 7-0-1 in the month, to jump back ahead of Bridgeport and into the division lead.  The Sound Tigers won, though, while the Whale lost Sunday, beating Hershey 2-1 in a shootout, so Bridgeport is only three points behind, with three games in hand.

I have to admit, I still can’t figure out how the Sound Tigers are doing it, although their second-half success was portended by their play all year against the Whale in the GEICO Connecticut Cup series.  Bridgeport has won five of the seven games played between the two teams, and only one of those came during their hot streak.

The Sound Tigers have gotten excellent goaltending against the Whale, who can reasonably count Bridgeport ‘keeper Kevin Poulin as one of their real nemeses these days, but they are still missing the likes of Tim Wallace, Aaron Ness and Dylan Reese, all on recall the Islanders, and Ty Wishart was also called up this week, as was Poulin.  Calvin de Haan, a fine young prospect on the blueline, has been hurt as well.  The Sound Tigers keep grinding out the wins, however, getting excellent mileage out of previously unknown names like Scott Howes, Kael Mouillierat and Blair Riley, and great performances out of a pair of rookies who lead their team in points.  Casey Cizikas has 44 points in 50 games and is a +25, tied for third-best in the league, and defenseman Matt Donovan has six goals and 30 points on the season.

It cannot now be said, if it ever could, that Bridgeport is on a fluke spurt—they’re for real.

The Whale, for their part, have gotten a great boost from the addition of Casey Wellman, who is giving the team a very strong 1-2 punch at center with Kris Newbury.  Wellman was held off the scoresheet Sunday, but before that had three goals and seven points in his first

Andre Deveaux

seven games in a Whale uniform, and has shown NHL-caliber wheels and a real good effort level.  Wojtek Wolski’s dynamic puck skills are gone back to the NHL, but his departure allowed Ken Gernander & Co. to move Andre Deveaux back on to the top line with

Newbury and Mats Zuccarello, and Deveaux responded with a pair of two-goal games over the weekend.

The Whale won two of those three games, to serve notice that their February success was not totally due to the presence of Wolski and Jeff Woywitka, and Bridgeport has a busy schedule coming up in which they will make up those games in hand.  There are still three dates left on the GEICO Connecticut Cup schedule, all in March and two at the XL Center, where the Whale are 14-4-2-4 on the year and 9-1-2-3 in their last 15.

So it should be a lot of fun for Connecticut hockey fans down the stretch, as a playoff chase heats up the already intense rivalry between the Whale and their unfriendly neighbors from Fairfield County.

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7 Responses to “Nutmeg State Battle”

  1. centriststudent Says:

    Reblogged this on centriststudent.

  2. chirs Says:

    so bob. i dont know why but i think there were some technical difficulties with the bordcast yesterday afternoon/evening ag providence as i could not here anything. I not pointing fingures. cause as far as i know it was a flouk acident. but you think if you could get a chance just make sure everything is all good for the next game thanks. i dont know bout other people but id rather listen to your broadcast then be left in the dark

  3. Naomi Noti Says:

    Hi Bob. Can you tell me where Bell is at? He has been scratched the last two games and I am not sure why, except maybe because of Redden’s return. Can you shed any light?

    Thanks for all you do. You are still the best.

    Naomi

  4. centriststudent Says:

    Hey Chris,

    In both Sat. and Sun. games there were errors with the audio for the iTunes Livestream. If you need an alternative (this worked for me on Sunday), use the following link: http://tunein.com/radio/The-Rock-1069-s27769/

    You have to click another link there, which pops up a new window to stream their radio online, but works perfectly fine.

  5. chirs Says:

    thanks centristudent

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