I took in the Hartford Wolf Pack game Wednesday night at the XL Center (Which will always be the Hartford Civic Center to me). The visiting team, the Providence Bruins, which happen to be rivals due to geography and also their major league affiliations. The Wolf Pack serve as the top minor league team to the New York Rangers and Providence is Boston’s minor league team. For the Wolf Pack, first string goalie Miika Wiikman started the game, with Boston’s goalie of the future, Tuukka Rask, as his counterpart for the Bruins.
I was sitting at the glass next to the visiting penalty box which gave me a good seat for Providence’s Adam McQuaid earning a penalty 20 seconds into the game. McQuaid is his team’s leader in penalty minutes, and his lead would grow by the end of the night. The Hartford fans welcomed him in their own special way and play continued.
It was a tough grind out battle in the first period. A theme of the night was that Providence on the face of it was setting up for more shots on goal conventionally, while the Wolf Pack were relying on sporadic breakaways and opportunities in unusual places. It was a grinding battle though the first period would prove to be the opening act to then night’s festivities. Despite chances for both sides, each goalie held firm and the score was 0-0 after 1.
Period 2 sent McQuaid to the box again within the first 20 seconds of the period as well, but this time it was for a fight with Hartford’s Devin DiDomete, which was actually a somewhat awkward affair in terms of fights. DiDiomete’s teammate Vladimir Denisov had also committed an interference penalty at the same and put the Bruins on the power play . The Pack successfully killed it off, but Dale Weise’s boarding penalty seconds afterward gave the Bruins a man advantage again. Hartford’s Patrick Rissmiller turned the tables on the visitors though when he ended up in Providence territory, wrapped the puck around the net and beat Rask to score a short handed goal.
The game continued to be a grind for a few minutes, until the Bruins’ Mikko Lehtonen went into the box on a holding penalty. Hartford proved they could score on their own power plays as well when David Urquhart scored to put the home team up by two. Each team put a guy in the penalty box at nearly the same time during the next few minutes, but it wasn’t long before Andrew Bodnarchuk started battling DiDiomete. The result was a much better fight for the fans which DiDiomete apparently won. He also picked up a roughing penalty too, as did teammate Matt Stefanishion. I believe DiDiomete was given a game misconduct as well and sent out. The Wolf Pack now were down two players and Providence was on the power play. Jeff Penner took advantage and put the Bruins on the board with a power play goal past Wiikman. Hartford was still down one player, but they killed off the penalty to keep the lead at 1. With play winding down in the period McQuaid got called for Hooking and returned to the box to the delight of the nearby fans.
That would be the last of the highlights until period three picked up.
The third frame featured a back and forth until Ryan Stokes from Providence and Justin Soryal from Hartford tangled in a fight that sent Stokes to the locker room for treatment. Two minutes later the home team’s Ethan Graham got called for a tripping penalty and the Bruins took advantage. The well known, Peter Schaefer found a way past Wiikman to tie the game up 2-2.
Period three continued until Denisov raised everyone’s blood pressure, going to the box with a little over five minutes left. The Wolf Pack created some further magic when major prospect Greg Moore received a pass from Brodie Dupont and broke away down the ice knocking the puck past Rask for a 3-2 lead shorthanded. The Bruins attempted everything they could to come back, but were unable to score again before the final horn sounded. Both Rask and Wiikman had played pretty well, picking up key saves on both sides of the ice, and it was special teams that decided the game, despite the oddity that the Pack scored more shorthanded goals than power play ones.
It was exciting despite the small crowd, though that gave the game a unique feel. The Wolf Pack also gained points to try to catch up with the Atlantic Division leading Bruins.