WILKES-BARRE TWP. – With their game against the Connecticut Whale scoreless after two periods, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins entered the final frame in danger of being shutout for the third straight time at home.
Chad Kolarik made sure that didn’t happen when he scored a power play goal early in the third and Joseph Morrow made sure the Penguins didn’t lose when he scored in overtime for a 2-1 win.
Following Friday’s come-from-behind win over Adirondack, head coach John Hynes said his team’s confidence never wavered against Connecticut.
“It’s belief,” he said. “Our mental toughness and focus were the difference tonight. At certain points in the game it could’ve waned, but it didn’t.”
The Penguins have now won two straight and are 4-2 in overtime. Their record improves to 28-22-2-1 and they remain one point ahead of Hershey for third place.
After a scoreless two periods, the Penguins extended their scoreless drought at home to 176:25 and the chances to break the streak were few despite outshooting Connecticut 23-13.
That all changed just four minutes into the third period thanks to Kolarik, who was traded from Connecticut to the Penguins on Jan. 24.
With the Penguins on their second power play of the night, Trevor Smith sent a pass out in front to Kolarik at the corner who ripped a one-timer for a 1-0 lead.
The goal was Kolarik’s team-leading 20th of the season and his 11th on the power play. More importantly, it energized the Penguins’ bench.
“It wasn’t just the fact that it was against his former team,” Hynes said. “It was a big power play goal at an important time in the game.”
The lead, however, was short-lived as the Penguins found themselves in penalty trouble.
Tom Kostopoulos went off first with an interference penalty at 4:31. Less than a minute later Zach Sill received a double minor for high-sticking, giving the Whale 1:26 with a two-man advantage.
It took Connecticut only 38 seconds to convert with a Brandon Segal shot from the corner to make it 1-1. The Penguins still had 3:22 of Sill’s double minor to deal with, but Brian Gibbons almost single-handedly regained the lead when he stole the puck in the neutral zone and raced in for a short-handed breakaway. Gibbons placed a shot on net but it was kicked away by Connecticut goaltender Cameron Talbot at the last second.
The penalty kill, led by Jeff Zatkoff in net, bailed the Penguins out to force an extra frame.
“That was a big statement about our penalty kill,” Hynes said. “Going over the boards, just the level of confidence those guys have. There’s no panic. There’s a plan and they came up large for us.”
With a 1-1 tie extending into overtime, the Penguins set up shop in the Connecticut end with less than a minute remaining. Morrow gained the puck at the point and sent in a shot through traffic in front that beat Talbot for the game-winner.
Hynes said he was glad to see Morrow exercise patience on the play and not immediately turn to his slapshot.
“He showed really good poise on that play. All night he was looking for the slapshot, but he just wristed it through. It was a good play,” Hynes said.
Scoring – None. Penalties – WBS, Payerl (delay of game) 3:06. Scoring – Penalties – CT Newbury (interference) 3:19. Scoring – 1. WBS, Chad Kolarik 20 (Smith, Dumoulin) power play 4:16. 2. CT, Brandon Segal 15 (Newbury, Pyett) power play 5:43. Penalties – CT, Segal (closing hand on puck) 4:02; WBS, Kostopoulos (interference) 4:31; WBS, Sill (high-sticking – double minor) 5:05; WBS, Kolarik (delay of game) 18:34. Scoring – 3. WBS, Joseph Morrow 3 (Mormina, Smith) 4:07. Penalties – None. Penguins – 8-15-8-1-32 Connecticut – 1 of 5 Penguins – 1 of 2 Connecticut – Cameron Talbot 19-21-1 (30 saves – 32 shots) Penguins – Jeff Zatkoff 17-15-0 (26-27) Connecticut – G Cameron Talbot, D Sam Klassen, D Blake Parlett, LW Michael Haley, C Kelsey Tessier, RW Brandon Segal Penguins – G Jeff Zatkoff, D Joey Mormina, D Cody Wild, LW Bobby Farnham, C Zach Sill, RW Chris Minella 1. WBS, Joseph Morrow (game-winning goal) 2. WBS, Chad Kolarik (goal) 3. WBS, Jeff Zatkoff (26 saves, one goal allowed) – Trent Knorr. Linesmen – Scott Adams, Jud Ritter – 8,242