Valentenko and Grachev Key Shootut Win
Former Austrian Netminder Morris helps AHL win 4th straight
Whale Wild Win over Charlotte
By Gerry Cantlon
HARTFORD,CT-Two late goals and his first shootout winner from Evgeny Grachev allowed the Connecticut Whale to sneak past the Charlotte Checkers 3-2 in shootout fashion before 5,862 at the XL Center.
It was a game that Charlotte seemed have had wrapped up before the Whale and their third period magic of late struck again.
Russian defender Pavel Valentenko who has the strongest shot on the Whale was at the right and center Kris Newbury cleanly won the draw from the Chekers Jacob Micflickier back to rookie Blake Parlatt who dished off the pass perfectly and Valentenko let one rip in one time fashion his 4th of the year over the glove of goalie Justin Pogge at 17:39 and a 2-1 Charlotte lead.
“I’m always trying to shoot like that, but sometimes I’m wide,” said a smiling Valentenko “I switched sides (with Parlett) and shot 80 percent. I’m looking to be quicker with my shot, but I was concentrating more on hitting the net. It finally worked.”
Like a baseball player shortening his swing assistant coach J.J. Daigneault found a new technique and it paid off.
Fellow Russian Grachev joked,” He’s got a bomb. If it’s not going in, he’s going to hurt somebody or break somebody’s stick. The set play we had didn’t work for us this year. Maybe we didn’t try it enough. Maybe we didn’t get those clean draws. But Newbury and Mitchell won draws, and we got two good goals.”
The Whale tied the contest at two as another of Pogge’s former Toronto Marlies teammates John Mitchell made his life miserable at 18:59 winning another draw this time from veteran Jonathan Matsumoto and this time it was NHL veteran Wade Redden who fed it to fellow rearguard Stu Bickel and the defensive defenseman caught all of the puck and again beat Pogge high glove side with his 2nd of the season.
“All game that lane was open for us, and I just tried to get tight into Reds so I could get off the one-timer,” Bickel said. “I just looked at the lane where I could get the puck thought to the net. We knew what we wanted to do off the draw, and it worked out. When you’re not scoring a ton, you look at where you’re shooting and maybe try to change things up, but from the point, you’re mostly looking for the lane to get it through. If you see a corner, you’re obviously going to shoot there, but you’re not so much trying to pick a corner as you are trying to the puck through on net.”
Overtime was a treat watching former European player (Austria and Slovenia) Dov Grumet-Morris harken back to his college days at Harvard with three saves over a span of 25 seconds that made it possible for the Whale to pick up shootout points.
With 52 seconds left he stopped a wide open Nick Dodge 10 feet out and then at 44.8 in a full split snatched with glove hand a shot from former Wolf pack defenseman Bryan Rodney labeled for the top corner.
Then with 27 seconds left he silenced rookie Zach Dalpe’s attempt to get a win for the Checkers.
The self effacing Morris doesn’t like to point out his superlatives, but he earned the right to take a bow.
“Some goalie coaches say if you’re stretching like that you’re out of position, but I’ll take the saves, I guess,” remarked Morris. “But I’m just very happy that we were able to come through in the shootout. That’s what really impressed me. I thought Pogge did really good in the shootout but just got unlucky. He had a great game and deserved to win just as much as me.
“Certainly we were excited to win. It was a big point, and to get the second point in the shootout was really big. I know it’s a cliché, but those points are important right now. We were as excited about winning the game as we were about getting those points, and our playoffs hopes ride on that.”
In overtime, Grachev nearly ended things with 19.8 seconds left in the extra session with Pogge denying the chance.
Then Grachev put the capper with his first shootout winner skating at a high rate of speed fired a hard snapshot that sent the water bottle flying off the net as a perfect exclamation point for this highly improbable win.
“(Pogge) is a big guy, and I was looking between the pad and blocker,” Grachev said. “I haven’t been getting a lot of opportunities (in shootouts), but maybe I’ll get more now.”
The 6’4 Russian winger said the Whale who now have won four straight games in the third period and trailing in all of them are beginning to jell at the right time of the season.
“We tried to stay positive and not get frustrated,” Grachev said. “We had our chances in the first two periods but had some bad bounces and missed nets. But we knew if we kept doing the right thing – working down low, putting pucks to the net and drive the net – good things would happen. Finally our defensemen got hot with two strikes from the blue line, and it’s so good to make such a big comeback against such a good team. To win in the shootout is a good win for us and now we have to keep rolling.”
Pogge was sterling for most of the game effectively using all parts of his goalie armor to repel Whale attempts. He stopped winger Dale Weise in the first period with a blocker save at 7:12 and then at 12:59 he stopped Jeremy Williams another former teammates right wing bid with a blocker save and then snatched Mitchell’s rebound shot with his glove.
The Checkers scored first when winger Brad Herauf after taking the puck off Redden on a 2 on 1 break beating Morris with his 3rd of the year at 3:30. Then with 25 seconds left in the period Checkers defenseman Zach FitzGeralds clearing attempt up the left wing boards seemed to elude teammate Jacob Micflickier and Valentenko to speedy Zach Boychuk who went off the left wing all alone and beat Morris from 35 feet out as Morris couldn’t squeeze the pads tight enough and his 20th of the season trickled over the line and a 2-0 lead.
In the third period, Grachev was denied on his turnaround bid at 1:25, winger Brodie Dupont who had a very strong game at both ends of the ice at 3:31 and then Mitchell on wraparound attempt with his paddle along the ice.
The Pack play in state and cellar dweller Bridgeport Sound Tigers Saturday night at 7 pm.
Story added on 26th March 2011 at 18:56 GMT
Story submitted by: Gerry Cantlon.