Albany completes six-point weekend
A six-point weekend in which the Albany Devils outscored opponents 8-2 concluded with Sunday's 4-0 win over Syracuse. The Devils scored all four goals in the span of 6:04 late in the second period.
The first goal came when an errant Crunch pass slipped out of the Albany zone and Reid Boucher gathered it for a breakaway, beating Syracuse goalie Charles Lavigne high at 12:08. It was Boucher's 21st goal of the season, and just his first of two on the night.
His second came at 15:24 on a slick give-and-go with Harri Pesonen, Pesonen backhanding the puck back to Boucher on the left side for the easy finish.
"It was a great play by [Scott] Timmins off the wall," Boucher said. "I might have been a step offsides, I'll have to look at it again. But I saw Pessy break in and I gave it to him, and he had the presence to give it back. It was a great play."
"I think he tried to wait for me and give me a one-timer, but I was a little late and went to my backhand," Pesonen said. "I felt like I didn't really have a good shooting angle, so I tried to give it back to him because I knew he was going there. When you give a guy like that a pass there, he's probably going to put it in."
Pesonen had assists on the first three goals, the third coming as Chris McKelvie netted a rebound of Darcy Zajac's shot. On the fourth goal, Reece Scarlett's power-play shot from the left point, Pesonen was in front of the crease, one of a number of players who kept Lavigne from seeing the puck all the way in.
"We got life. It's amazing, momentum, right?" Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said. "We scored a goal, we scored two, then everybody's got jump, it takes wind out of their sails. When [Pesonen] skates, he's strong on the puck. We're on him all the time to shoot and play that north-south style. He tends to get a little east-west and think he's back in Finland, I think, sometimes. He's a strong guy, and he can skate and shoot the puck."
"It was an interesting period of time," Pesonen said. "I felt like in the first period, we kind of struggled and couldn't really get any offense going. All of a sudden in the second, we started to pop some goals, and it felt great."
The scoring outburst felt like payback for all those games the Devils saw good scoring opportunities but couldn't convert, Kowalsky said.
"The first goal got into us," he said." I said to them after, I didn't think we had that good of a first half of the game. I thought they were physical and kind of took it to us at times, but Wedgie kept us in there. We got that first one, and it was nice to catch some breaks. We've had a lot of 2-1, 1-1 games where we had chances – last night was a prime example – couldn't score. We haven't got a lot of bounces or puck luck, but I thought tonight we did."
On the other end, the Devils limited the Crunch to just four shots in that second period. Syracuse was able to put 20 on frame in the game, but goalie Scott Wedgewood stopped everything that came his way to earn his fourth shutout of the season, improving to 15-14-3.
He had to leave last Sunday's loss to Adirondack early. That game ended a one-point three-game road trip.
"This weekend was huge for us," Wedgewood said. "What happened last weekend obviously wasn't what we wanted. For me, from a confidence standpoint after coming out on Sunday last week, it was a hard week of practice and a little bit of an ego boost just to get you back in a rhythm, coming out today and playing well. The team played well, defensively, and I have to credit those guys again. I didn't see much, 20 shots, but there wasn't too much high-quality."
The four-shot second period was reminiscent of the periods Wedgewood saw in a four-game winning streak near the end of March.
"It kind of eases the pressure a little bit, but you don't want to get complacent," he said. "I've always tried to stay in the game in those periods, and I've had a lot of them this year, where I've had less than six or seven shots. They're in your end, they throw a puck on net, they're gone for another four minutes. It's tough to stay in it, but at the same time, we did really well."
The defense in front of him kept shooters to the outside much of the night, and he said they were already in playoff mode as they got in front of as many shots as possible.
"You look around the room, and guys have ice bags on," he said, sporting a pair of ice packs himself. "It's getting down to that crunch time, and guys are putting their bodies on the line. It's something we've talked about and the word is getting around the room. It's that time of year where every play matters, you've got to be a teammate and do those things regardless of whether it's what you want to do. Nobody wants to get in front of that puck like us goaltenders, but when they do make those sacrifices and block shots, it's huge for us."
The win, combined with a Providence loss, propelled the Devils into sixth place in the Eastern Conference. They are tied with Providence with 89 points, but the Devils hold the first tiebreaker, which is regulation and overtime wins (ROW). Albany has 32 and Providence has 28.
However, both Albany and Providence remain just three points ahead of eighth-place Hershey and ninth-place Norfolk. Both Hershey and Norfolk have a game in hand. They play each other Wednesday and Friday.
Albany has two games remaining, Wednesday at Portland and Saturday at home against Northeast Division champion Springfield.
"Everybody knew here in the room that we needed all six points and couldn't leave any on the table if we wanted to make sure we were going to still be in the race for the playoffs," Pesonen said. "That was a great weekend, not leaving any points there, but we've got two more to come. Let's have two more, then we're ready for the playoffs."
Six of Pesonen's 14 goals and six of his 20 assists have come in the last 17 games, and he said the playoff race has gotten him all fired up.
"Everybody knows what's at stake here," he said. "All the teams pretty much have the same skill set here, so it's more about the will and the heart out there, so I feel like it's my time, and I really like playing right now. I'll just try to keep it going."