Saturday's Morning Skate 3/5

Saturday, March 5, 2016
On Sunday at home against Hershey, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins captain Tom Kostopoulos will become the fourth player in hockey history to appear in both 600 NHL and 600 AHL games. Photo: Nina Weiss/The Home News
After this weekend's games, there will be just six weeks remaining in the American Hockey League's 2015-16 regular season schedule. While two teams in the Atlantic Division - the Hershey Bears and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins - have separated themselves from the pack, the rest of the division minus last place Springfield (3rd place through 7th) is separated by just seven points.

Furthermore, there are separate home and home series beginning tonight between the top two teams (the Bears and Penguins) as well as the third and fourth place teams, Portland Pirates and Providence Bruins, respectively. It's only the first weekend in March, but there's a lot on the line as these two sets of games have major playoff implications in the divisional picture.

Teams like the 5th place Bridgeport Sound Tigers and 6th place Hartford Wolf Pack, who face each other on Sunday, as well as the Lehigh Valley Phantoms are starting to feel the heat of must-win games in an already playoff-like atmosphere. The Phantoms were shutout last night by the Penguins, and almost need two points tonight in Binghamton to keep themselves in the postseason conversation.

Atlantic Division Standings (through 3/4's games)

1. Hershey: 58 games played, 33-15-3-7 = 76 points (.655 PCT)
2. W-B/Scranton: 57 games played, 34-18-4-1 = 73 points (.640 PCT)
3. Portland: 55 games played, 31-21-2-1 = 65 points (.591 PCT)
4. Providence: 56 games played, 27-18-9-2 = 65 points (.580 PCT)
5. Bridgeport: 58 games played, 30-21-3-3 = 66 points (.569 PCT)
6. Hartford: 57 games played, 29-26-2-0 = 60 points (.526 PCT)
7. Lehigh Valley: 59 games played, 27-27-2-3 = 59 points (.500 PCT)
8. Springfield: 56 games played, 21-28-3-4 = 49 points (.438 PCT)

The usual look around the Atlantic Division's Friday night games as well as a look ahead to this weekend's games after the jump.

Around The Atlantic

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton - 3 at Lehigh Valley - 0

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms (27-27-2-3) were shutout by the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins for the third time this season Friday night in a 3-0 loss that puts the Phantoms’ playoff hopes in serious jeopardy.

The loss, combined with a miraculous come-from-behind win by Bridgeport, pushes Lehigh Valley to seven points behind the final playoff spot with 17 games remaining on their regular season schedule.

The Phantoms ran into another hot goaltender in Tristan Jarry, who stopped all 36 shots that came his way for the Penguins in the win, while Dominik Simon (two goals) and Dustin Jeffrey (two assists) lead the Penguins’ attack.

A late second-period goal by Jean-Sebastien Dea with 15.7 seconds left turned out to be a back breaking goal for the Phantoms, who entered the third period trailing 2-0. The Penguins extended their lead to 3-0 just 1:28 into the final frame to put the icing on the proverbial cake.

The Phantoms head to Binghamton Saturday to conclude their weekend, while the Penguins head to Hershey for the beginning of a home-and-home series with the Atlantic Division leading Hershey Bears.

Bridgeport - 4 at Providence - 3 (OT) 

The Bridgeport Sound Tigers pulled off the unthinkable Friday night in Providence, rallying from a 3-1 deficit with two goals in the final 25 seconds of regulation before completing the comeback on a game-winning penalty shot goal in overtime.

After Bracken Kearns gave the Sound Tigers an early 1-0 lead on a power play goal 2:25 into the contest, the PBruins responded with three straight goals to take a 3-1 lead, the latest of which came with 16:52 left in regulation.

Then, Tanner Fritz scored his first career AHL goal off a face-off with 24.1 seconds left while goaltender Christopher Gibson (30 saves - 33 shots) was on the bench for the extra attacker. This was after the PBruins had twice hit the post attempting to ice the game with an empty net goal. Instead, the Sound Tigers tied it up with 10.8 seconds left when former PBruin Justin Florek tallied his third of the season.

If that wasn't crazy enough, Kearns finished things off in overtime after the PBruins were called for knocking the net off. On a penalty shot, Kearns went five-hole on Zane McIntyre (28 saves - 32 shots) to complete the miraculous comeback for Bridgeport on the road.

Bridgeport enjoys a Saturday night off before heading to Hartford for a Sunday meeting with the Wolf Pack, while Providence heads to Portland for a Saturday night rivalry game against the Pirates.

Syracuse - 3 at Portland - 1

In Portland, the Pirates took an early 1-0 lead on a power play goal 4:57 into play by Connor Brickley, but Brickley's 5th of the season was not enough to keep Portland in the win column.

The Syracuse Crunch responded with three unanswered goals on tallies from Yanni Gourde, Tanner Richard and an empty netter from captain Mike Angelidis in the final seconds to complete the 3-1 final score in favor of the Crunch.

Adam Wilcox continues to shine for Syracuse in net, picking up his third straight win in his third straight start with 29 saves on 30 shots. With Mike McKenna on his way back from the Florida Panthers, Sam Brittain put in a strong 30-save performance of his own but received no offensive support in the loss.

Syracuse has Saturday off before finishing the weekend in Springfield Sunday, while the Portland Pirates remain home to host rival Providence Saturday night.

Hershey - 3 at Binghamton - 1

The Hershey Bears continue to roll, winning their fourth straight game last night in Binghamton and maintaining their Atlantic Division lead at three points over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

Reigning rookie of the month Riley Barber tallied his 20th goal of the season to put the Bears in front in the first period. Newly acquired forward Phil Varone evened the score at 1-1 for Binghamton with a power play tally late in the opening period, but that's as close as the BSens would get.

Sean Collins tallied his 14th of the season early in the second period and the Bears tacked on an empty net goal in the final minute of regulation by AHL leading scorer Chris Bourque in route to the 3-1 win.

Dan Ellis stopped 22 of 23 shots in the win for Hershey, while rookie netminder Matt O'Connor finished with 18 saves on 20 shots in the loss for Binghamton.

Hershey returns home to host rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the beginning of a home and home series, while Binghamton remains home to play host to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms Saturday night.

Other Eastern Conference Scores

Albany - 1 at St. John's - 3
Toronto - 0 at Utica - 4 
Springfield - 3 at Rochester - 7

Saturday's Eastern Conference Schedule

Albany at St. John's, 6:00 p.m. ET
W-B/Scranton at Hershey, 7:00 p.m. ET
Providence at Portland, 7:00 p.m. ET
Springfield at Utica, 7:00 p.m. ET
Lehigh Valley at Binghamton, 7:05 p.m. ET
Toronto at Rochester, 7:35 p.m. ET 


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