Pack Flirting with .500

The thing that jumped out most at me from the Wolf Pack’s two-out-of-three weekend, which got them to within three games of even for the season (25-28-0-6), was the team’s resilience in circumstances that I think would have sent them over the brink earlier in the year.

Given the final score of Friday’s 6-2 verdict over Springfield, the Wolf Pack’s most lopsided victory of the year, it’s hard to remember that was a one-goal game headed into the third period, or that the Falcons outplayed their hosts for much of the first frame. Twice the Pack grabbed the lead in the first, and twice they coughed it up to the division leaders, both on goals by Ryan Craig, the second coming with only 54.5 seconds left in the period.

I strongly suspect that the deflation of losing two leads like that would have derailed the Wolf Pack of earlier this season, but the team seemed to shrug it off pretty quickly. They threw a blanket over the Falcons in the second period, while getting a goal from Jesper Fast that turned out to be the game-winner, and then swamped their I-91 rivals with three goals in the third.

Jesper Fast

Jesper Fast

A side note…if I’m not mistaken, Craig actually scored four goals in the first period. In addition to the two that the Falcon captain put into the Wolf Pack net, Danny Kristo’s tally 1:45 into the game appeared to go into the Springfield goal off of Craig’s skate, and the replay made it look like J.T. Miller’s five-on-three goal later in the period hit Craig’s stick before getting by Falcon goaltender Jeremy Smith. Don’t mean to make fun of Craig, he’s a pro’s pro and a solid, gritty player, but what a run of luck, both good and bad. One of those funny kinds of things that make the game so entertaining.

After that, the Wolf Pack had almost no jump in the first half of Saturday’s home game against Albany, one of the teams that the Pack is going to have to try and pass if they are going to get into the playoffs. The Pack were outshot 13-5 in the first period, and needed some great work in goal from Dov Grumet-Morris to avoid falling into a big early hole. After Albany finally solved Grumet-Morris on a power play midway through the second, the Pack quickly got their feet under them, and would go on to score the next three goals of the game.

Another psychological challenge faced the Pack in the third period, when the Devils struck for a pair of goals in only 28 seconds, suddenly turning it into a tie game. Again, if this happens in November or December, I think the air goes out of the Wolf Pack balloon and they go into a shell, but Saturday night saw the crew recapture the momentum, close Albany out the rest of the way and get a great goal from Ryan Bourque at 12:25 of the third that provided the winning margin.

The Pack were slow out of the gate again in Manchester Sunday against the league-leading Monarchs, and were not so lucky this time on the scoreboard. It was 3-0 by the time the Wolf Pack even made a peep, and I was thinking, boy, this is going to be one ugly blowout. Then, though, Conor Allen makes a great play to find T.J. Hensick alone in front of the goal to stem the tide 22.6 seconds before the end of the first, and the Pack were nip and tuck with the Monarchs the rest of the way.

Hensick made it really squirrelly for Manchester with another goal inside the final minute of the third, with David LeNeveu pulled for an extra skater, and the Pack got some decent pressure after that as well, forcing the Monarchs back on their heels and making them really earn the two points.

So…plenty of progress continues to be made, and the Wolf Pack are to within two points of the tenth spot in the Eastern Conference. If they can get there, then one big jump remains to be made, as nine points currently separate tenth place from ninth. Above that, it’s anybody’s game, as the gap between fourth and ninth is only a mere nine points.

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