We’ve seen some crazy stuff around here. We’ve seen Louis DeBrusk send a playoff series to Game 7. We’ve watched Drew Fata take a penalty in the last two minutes, and Bridgeport score short-handed to tie it. We’ve seen a couple of last-second tying goals.
Has it ever been more unlikely than a big defenseman, the one who wasn’t a good enough skater to get an NHL contract, busting past a defenseman for a breakaway to turn this thing around?
“The big man was legging it out,” Pat Bingham said with a smile.
“It gave us a huge spark. We fed off that.”
Rhett Rakhshani knocked it away from Jeremy Williams (making me regret my third-star pick, seeing on replay who it was) to give O’Neill the chance. He flat outraced Pavel Valentenko to get the breakaway. He got the penalty shot. He shot the puck. He scored.
Rakhshani scored a few seconds later. And then who’s open, wide open, at the end? Wes O’Neill.
One of the players said this reminded him of two years ago, when no two-goal lead was safe, when they found ways to win games they had no business winning.
“Every team has its own unique personality,” Bingham said. “There’s experience from the past you can draw on. Whoever it was who said that was part of a pretty special group that didn’t quit*.”
Bingham said he could point to several cases tonight where players could have done something selfish, could have taken a shortcut. Stuff like Robin Figren almost throwing his face in front of a shot late in regulation.
“Micheal Haley so desperately wanted to take a swing at” Devin DiDiomete, Bingham said — but he couldn’t do it without giving up a power-play chance. “Down 3-0 at that point, if he takes that penalty, I don’t think we win this game.”
Dylan Reese, Jon Sim and Travis Hamonic are on the transactions as sent down tonight. Unclear whether they’re here to play, or if it’s just paper to save money.
Both O’Neill and Bingham said they were sticking with what brought them through two periods. But once Hartford took that 3-0 lead on Williams’ goal, Bingham wanted to change up the forecheck, get a little more aggressive. But he didn’t want to do it piecemeal. He figured he’d do it at the 14-minute time out. Trouble: They didn’t get the 14-minute time out until 11 minutes and change remained. They got it figured out.
I went back and forth on whether that should have been a penalty shot. On third thought and second look, Valentenko got his stick between O’Neill’s legs from behind, so under the modern, looser standards, probably the right call.
Bridgeport shooters are 9-for-17 all-time on penalty shots, including goals on the last five in a row. The last three have come against Hartford (Martin vs. Valiquette, Tyler Haskins vs. Chad Johnson).
Bingham saw some looks in the shootout, begging for him to put O’Neill in. The coach thought about it. It was coming. Colliton went and won it first. “(Colliton) turned around and made eye contact,” Bingham said. “He really wanted to go.” He noted, also, that O’Neill and Colliton both shot the puck. No deking.
Bailey was unremarkable until late. O’Neill gave him plenty of credit on the tying goal, fired it across, “a saucer over two sticks,” he said.
Not on the send-down list but back in town: Jesse Joensuu, today’s game-winning goal-scorer on the Island, who watched and stopped in to congratulate the team. He received some of his own.
And so ends the Hartford Wolf Pack era: 571-346-66-49-30, a Calder Cup championship and a mixed finish. At least tomorrow we’ll get to hear the song again. But we’ll miss that name, those sweaters (most of them, anyway), and that ping.
*-“We never quit.” –Jack Capuano