Playoff berths can be as slippery as a freshly Zambonied sheet of ice.
Not long ago, the Albany Devils were skating in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, in charge of their own destiny. After losing to Hershey, 4-1, on Sunday at the Times Union Center to extend their losing streak to eight games, the Devils are sliding on their bellies further down the standings, forcing more pressure on themselves for the remaining 12 games.
Albany carried much of the momentum through the second period Sunday, but could not catch a break with a goal.
“Part of it is bad luck, but also, I don’t think we’ve played our best hockey,” Albany center Brad Mills said. “We have no one but ourselves to blame. It’s one of those things where you’ve just got to move forward and focus on the next one, because there’s nothing we can do about it at this point. We’ve let some games slip away against teams we should be beating. That’s how it goes, I guess.”
The Devils try to get back on their feet Wednesday night when they host Worcester at 7. They then travel to play Norfolk on Friday and Saturday. The Admirals are on an AHL-record 18-game winning streak.
The Devils are now 11th in the conference, two points out of the eighth and final playoff berth. Six points separate seventh from 14th.
After first-period goals by Hershey’s Patrick McNeill and Maxime Lacroix, Vladimir Zharkov answered for Albany, collecting the puck in the neutral zone and skating in, firing from above the right circle to catch Hershey goalie Dany Sabourin by surprise.
Trailing, 2-1, the Devils put forth a furious effort in the second period that resulted in good chances, the best coming at 7:20 when Matt
Anderson missed from the top corner of the crease, sending the puck over a yawning net. At 12:30, Zharkov skated behind the net to the right, sending a pass out front for Kory Nagy, skating down the slot, but Sabourin slid back across to make the save.
Then, with 1:10 left in the period, Albany’s Tim Sestito was whistled for roughing on a hit on Hershey’s Sean Collins, a call that drew some chirps from the Devils. Moments later, with 54.2 seconds remaining, Chris Bourque took a shot from the point that Boyd Kane deflected past goalie Jeff Frazee for a 3-1 lead.
Aside from a first-period fight, it was only the third penalty of the day in a physically contested game.
“You get the sense these guys have been instructed to put the whistles away, and we’re fine with that, if it stays like that,” Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said. “It’s a hit in the neutral zone where the guy kind of turns away from it. His hands come up after the fact. I think there maybe could have been a call before that. Regardless, it stings because I thought it was a good hockey game, I thought we had the momentum, especially in the second period. A questionable call leads to a power-play goal, and now we’re down by two instead of right on the doorstep with numerous chances.”
The Devils lost defenseman Matt Corrente (lower body) in the first period, and played the rest of the game with five defensemen. He was the fourth Devil to go down during the three-in-three weekend. Bad timing for Kowalsky and his team, but bad timing and bad luck are things they have to forget about if they are to recover and earn a playoff berth.
“Nobody’s feeling sorry for us,” Kowalsky said. “We met after the game [Saturday] and talked about frustration. You can control your energy level and you can control your mental state and what you’re doing out there. In Binghamton on Friday, I didn’t like the way we played. It was very inconsistent, it went in spurts, we didn’t play a very smart game; and the last two nights, we did. So I can’t fault their effort. We’re not getting the breaks right now, and we’ve just got to keep working through it and make them.”
Hershey 2 1 1 — 4
Albany 1 0 0 — 1
First Period — 1, Hershey, McNeill 9 (Miskovic, Bourque), 11:18. 2, Hershey, Lacroix 1 (Koger, Mitchell), 16:31. 3, Albany, Zharkov 13, 17:41. Penalties — Rechlicz, Her, minor-major (roughing, fighting), 6:05; Stoesz, Alb, major (fighting), 6:05.
Second Period — 4, Hershey, Kane 16 (Bourque, McNeill), 19:05 (pp). Penalties — Hoeffel, Alb (holding), 1:41; Sestito, Alb (roughing), 19:50.
Third Period — 5, Hershey, Kane 17 (Potulny), 19:47. Penalties — Potulny, Her (tripping), 6:15; Burlon, Alb (interference), 9:58.
Shots on goal — Hershey 8-8-7 — 23. Albany 7-9-9 — 25.
Power-play opportunities — Hershey 1 of 3; Albany 0 of 2.
Goalies — Hershey, Sabourin 14-9-4 (25 shots-24 saves). Albany, Frazee 10-16-2 (22-19).
A — 4,193. T — 2:15.
Referees — Francis Charron, Brett Montsion. Linesmen — Marty Demers, Frank Murphy.