Even early on Friday, there was something going on in Kieffer Bellows’ game. He just kept going. He wound up scoring twice, including the goal that ended the second-longest game in 18 seasons of Sound Tigers hockey.
“I think that was his best game I’ve seen him play in pro hockey,” Brent Thompson said. “He was engaged physically. He tracked. He was responsible defensively. And he was shooting the puck. He was getting the puck on and off his stick quickly.”
He took Oliver Wahlstrom’s pass just above the hash marks on the slot-side of the left circle, turned and fired through Steve Bernier’s screen to win it 13:36 into the second overtime.
“Personally, I felt really good tonight,” Bellows said. “I felt like my feet were moving. I was shooting the puck well. A lot of credit to (Josh) Ho-Sang and (John) Stevens finding me. I thought we had a well-rounded game, defensively as well.”
Bellows wasn’t on either power-play unit to start the game, nor had he been to start Thursday’s practice. Bridgeport tweaked a few things with its second unit over the course of that practice, sliding Bellows in at a couple of different spots, including one he played when he scored the first Bridgeport goal on Friday night, above Otto Koivula in the middle.
But then Travis St. Denis was tossed in the third period for an innocent-looking play that turned into one of the scarier things we’ve ever seen here: Aaron Ness motionless on his stomach after crashing head-first into the endboards. (Initial word is that Ness will be OK, thank goodness.) Bellows moved into St. Denis’ spot on the other power-play unit, above Bernier.
That’s where he was after Mike Sgarbossa was called for tripping Sebastian Aho, 33 minutes into overtime.
“We wanted to get him in that bumper spot to add that threat of a scorer, a shooter in that pocket,” Thompson said. “It worked out.”
Game 1: Bridgeport 3, Hershey 2 (2OT)
Game 2: Saturday at Bridgeport, 7 p.m.
Game 3: Tuesday, April 23, at Hershey, 7 p.m.
Game 4: Thursday, April 25, at Hershey, 7 p.m.*
Game 5: Saturday, April 27, at Bridgeport, 7 p.m.*
So, yes, preliminary word from the Bears was good on Ness, and the buzz on the Bridgeport side was that he’s doing OK. Talked to Chris Bourque about him for the paper (well, for the web, because the game barely made print deadline), and Thompson also expressed his concern; lots of mutual respect between him and Ness. Got to catch up with Aaron on Thursday for something that, now, may not quite run as planned, but was great to see him. Hoping the best.
Been a long time since we covered a double-overtime game. The last one was a college game: Vermont-Air Force in the 2009 NCAA East Regional. (The regional is coming back in 2021, by the way.) That game officially ended at 14:10 of double overtime, though they played almost two more minutes before a whistle that let them go back and review Dan Lawson’s goal that went through the net. So, officially, by 34 seconds, tonight is only the second-longest hockey game in Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard history.
How to manage the fatigue as this thing drags on? “One or two up-and-downs, kinda get off the ice after that, and if you’re in a good position, change,” Bourque said. “You’ve got to be smart. We were trying to wear their D down. They’ve got five guys who’d played a lot of hockey.” A glance up at the clock showed that warmup for Game 2 was about 19 hours away. “Both teams are in the same position,” Bourque said. “It’s obviously a huge win, to grab that first win at home. Our focus now is on Game 2. We’ve got to get some fluids into us, eat, get some rest, gear up. It’s not too hard to get up for playoff games. It’s the best time of the year.”
So do you use that depth we’ve been talking about all year, make a few changes? “I may,” Thompson said. “I’m going to actually sit down and look at it. Actually just got (time on ice). I’ll look at the minutes and see what fits us the best and go from there.”
(I considered attempting to lean in and take a peek at time on ice, but he covered it back up again. Plus there was an actual media scrum, and it might’ve been unseemly. He did mention that Sebastian Aho led them in TOI, which, considering how much time they spent on the power play and how little time they spent on the penalty kill, even with a major, makes sense.)
First overtime power-play goal in team history. They’d allowed two, Ryan Stone’s to send the 2006 East Division Semis to Game 7 (thus erasing the last lead in a playoff series the Sound Tigers had ever had) and Casey Wellman’s to end the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in Hartford.
I got a kick out of this little Steve Bernier nugget.
Joe Whitney in the house to watch little brother.
Elsewhere, Cleveland and Toronto win Game 1 of their series against Syracuse and Rochester, just as we all predicted. (Tage Thompson did get Rochester on the board late.) Grand Rapids jumped on top of Chicago, and Bakersfield won a back-and-forth game with Colorado. (We didn’t link to the late one Thursday night, San Jose evening the series with San Diego, did we? There you go.)
CSKA won the Gagarin Cup, and Islanders draft pick Ilya Sorokin was named playoff MVP.
The last time the Sound Tigers took a lead in a playoff series — in overtime, no less — bad things happened on the way home. I will drive carefully.
And RIP, Raymond McPadden.
What time is it? See you in a few.