For a while, it seemed like the Belleville Senators were unstoppable. Their top line scored at will, their starting goaltender was, at times, a literal brick wall and everything was going right. This past weekend was a different story. While they took home two crucial points from a floundering Utica team, they dropped back-to-back games over the weekend to see their lead on a playoff spot vanish.
Wednesday, March 20 - Belleville 3, Utica 1
With Utica sitting closely behind Belleville, Wednesday’s tilt was a must-win. The first period was a back and forth of chances with nobody finding the back of the net so let’s skip to the second period.
The excitement started in the second period. First, Darren Archibald was absolutely robbed of a sure goal when a Utica defender slid across to block his shot with Michael Leighton well out of the net. Shortly thereafter, Jack Rodewald potted his 21st by banging in his own rebound after some smart puck work by Filip Chlapik and Vitaly Abramov.
Belleville carried this 1-0 lead well into the third period until a few unlucky bounces found Brendan Woods alone with a shot in front of the net, beating Hogberg on a backhand. The BSens regained the lead quite quickly and, well, it’s best you see how that happened for yourself.
Here's the Batherson-Falk connection for the eventual game winner. Huge two points for the #BSens tonight. pic.twitter.com/YAKXnvAabD— Spencer Blake (@spencerdjblake) March 21, 2019
Not bad, eh?
Vitaly Abramov - The speed and skill Abramov brings to this lineup is crucial and he was flying on Wednesday. He tallied an assist and a number of scoring chances were directly or indirectly due to his play.
Justin Falk - A goal and an assist from a guy you don’t expect much production from is always welcome in a tight playoff race.
Filip Chlapik - Chlapik seemed to have the puck on a string in this one while adding an assist of his own.
Here are the highlights.
Friday, March 22 - Providence 2, Belleville 0
On Friday night, the Senators visited the Providence Bruins for their second of two meetings this season. Troy Mann turned to Hogberg again to protect the Belleville net but some adjustments were required as Chlapik, Abramov and Erik Brannstrom joined the big club on their Western Canada road trip.
If you’re a fan of the Belleville Senators (and if you find yourself reading this blog and you’re not... welcome!), this particular recap isn’t going to be filled with too much content for you. The first and only time a goal was scored on a goaltender occurred late in the first period. The goal was familiar, in design, as the Bruins executed a play on the man advantage that we’ve seen many times from the BSens. Jakob Forbacka-Karlsson moved the puck to Trent Frederic, who was station down low beside the net, and the puck was quickly moved to the backdoor where Peter Cehlarik was waiting to bang home his 12th of the year.
The remainder of the game was filled with penalties - including a bad play by Darren Archibald which resulted in a major penalty for cross checking - and some scoring chances but not a lot of action worth noting - with the exception of some stellar saves perfectly captured in the highlights below.
Marcus Hogberg - Hogberg saved 22 of 23 shots and made some fantastic saves to keep his team in the game.
The Penalty Kill - The PK was successful on four of five attempts and successfully killed off a major penalty.
Here are the highlights.
Saturday, March 23 - Bridgeport 2, Belleville 1
It was Filip Gustavsson’s turn to start on Saturday night - words I had almost forgotten how to type - and the BSens received reinforcements in the form of Chlapik and Abramov to take on the a very strong Bridgeport Sound Tigers squad in Connecticut.
Early in the first, the BSens’ reputation for discipline got them in some hot water. Logan Brown took a goaltender interference penalty just over three minutes in and Just Falk joined him in the box ten seconds later to force Belleville into a 5-on-3 situation. Luckily, the PK success from the night before carried over and they were able to successfully get back to even strength.
Unfortunately it didn’t take the Tigers too long to get on the board. Early in the first, a point shot was deflected past Gustavsson to take the lead. The remainder of the first period saw a few more penalties for both teams and some solid chances by Nick Paul and Rodewald but Belleville was unable to get themselves on the board.
The second period was no different for Belleville as they continued to struggle offensively while Bridgeport was able to extend their lead. Late in the third, Sebastian Aho (not that one) sent a shot from up high through some bodies and Steve Bernier managed to get a piece of it for the Tigers’ second deflection goal of the night.
In the third, Cody Goloubef was able to get the good guys on the board after Drake Batherson and Brown forced a turnover in the high slot. To the delight of the home fans, it was too little too late for the BSens and they weren’t able to complete the comeback.
Filip Gustavsson - Gus made just his second appearance as the starting goaltender in Belleville since the big playoff push began, stopping 20 of 22 shots along the way. It’s hard to fault him for either of the goals against, either, as the Tigers did a great job of creating traffic and getting their sticks in the lanes for two deflections.
Nick Paul - Leading his team with six shots on goal, it wasn’t from a lack of effort that Paul wasn’t able to score on Saturday.
The Penalty Kill - If 80% was deserving of a shoutout on Friday, 100% is even better on Saturday.
Here are the highlights.
There’s a lot to unpack here. First and foremost, the streak is officially over. We can’t forget about it, because it was a feat of excellence this Belleville team worked very hard for, but the show must go on and there’s still plenty of work to do. According to the AHL’s Playoff Primer, the road only gets more difficult in the final eight games of the season. The BSens find themselves with the third most difficult schedule, facing off mostly against teams with similar or better records than their own.
For the past few weeks, it’s been a battle between Utica, Cleveland and Belleville for that fourth and final playoff spot. With a game in hand and sporting a 7-2-1 record in their last ten games, it would appear that Cleveland is now the biggest competition for the BSens down the stretch. What makes it even more intriguing? The Monsters will be visiting CAA Arena one more time this season - for Belleville’s fourth last game on the schedule. Let the drama ensue.
Finally, Archibald received a two game suspension from the AHL for his cross check in Friday’s game against Providence. He’ll be back in the lineup following this week’s two games tonight against Syracuse and Saturday against Hartford.