By Michael Fornabaio
For The Times Leader
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — So what if they’re not scoring bunches of goals. So what if it has taken them just a little longer each night to get a win.
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins played three games this weekend and won them all 2-1, finishing up with a 2-1 shootout victory Sunday over the Bridgeport Sound Tigers at Webster Bank Arena.
“We played three tight games, three intense games,” Penguins coach John Hynes said, “and we did enough in each game to come up with the two points.”
Brad Thiessen made 34 saves and allowed just one tally to five Bridgeport players in the shootout. Chad Kolarik and Riley Holzapfel tallied for the Penguins to earn the victory. “I think all three games this weekend were a team effort,” veteran forward Tom Kostopoulos said. “We rely heavily on our defense and goaltending and D-zone coverage and go from there. It’s not like we score a ton of goals.”
They beat Adirondack 2-1 in regulation Friday, then needed overtime to beat Connecticut 2-1 Saturday on Joe Morrow’s goal
Kostopoulos got the Penguins’ lone goal during regular play Sunday, at 4:13 of the second period. That answered a goal that Bridgeport defenseman Aaron Ness scored from the left circle at 4:14 of the first period.
Thiessen and Bridgeport’s Kenny Reiter, a Pittsburgh native, took over from there, completing the Penguins’ hard-fought but successful weekend.
“In a one-goal game late, the game’s that much more intense,” Hynes said. “Every play matters. That’s how you grow and get better. In a competitive game, there’s not a lot of time and space. When you find ways to win, it’s gratifying.”
In the 14th game of his return to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Kostopoulos scored his first goal. He’d had three assists.
“I was getting frustrated. I was pushing too hard,” Kostopoulos said. But he was in position, as was Jayson Megna, in the slot to get a piece of Morrow’s shot after the defenseman walked the puck from right to left. The deflection shot up past Reiter to tie it.
It was Kostopoulos’ 98th goal as a Penguin, extending his own team record; he has another 11 in the playoffs. He had played for four other NHL organizations since leaving the Penguins in 2004 and hadn’t been back to the AHL since playing for Manchester in the last NHL lockout year, 2004-05.
“(Kostopoulos) is such a high-character guy,” Hynes said. “He’s the first guy on the ice, the last guy off. He’s still such an
effective player in numerous ways.” Defenseman Reid McNeill made his AHL debut. Hynes said the big minutes McNeill played for Wheeling (ECHL) had him ready.
“He did a very nice job,” Hynes said. “For a young guy, I know he’s a very strong competitor. He’s sound defensively.”
McNeill replaced Philip Samuelsson, a late decision, Hynes said.
Penguins 0 1 0 0 1 — 2
Bridgeport 1 0 0 0 0 — 1
First Period: Scoring — 1. Bridgeport, Ness 2 (Landry, Nelson), 4:14. Penalties — McIver, Bpt (slashing), 1:57; Holzapfel, WBS (unsportsmanlike conduct), 9:48; Ness, Bpt (hooking), 10:46; Nelson, Bpt (high-sticking), 11:15. Second Period: Scoring — 1. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Kostopoulos 1 (Morrow, Gibbons), 4:13. Penalties — Minella, WBS, major (fighting), 4:36; Riley, Bpt, major (fighting), 4:36; Halmo, Bpt (slashing), 6:24; Farnham, WBS (roughing), 9:52. Third Period: Scoring — No scoring. Penalties — Payerl, WBS (tripping), 16:13. Overtime: Scoring — No scoring. Penalties — None. Shootout: Scoring — Bridgeport, Niederreiter NG, Costello NG, Combs G, Kabanov NG, Nelson NG; Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Kolarik G, Megna NG, Smith NG, Holzapfel G. Shots on goal: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 7-12-7-1-1—28. Bridgeport 7-12-13-3-0—35. Power play opportunities: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 0 of 4, Bridgeport 0 of 3. Goaltenders: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Thiessen 12-9-1 (35 shots-34 saves). Bridgeport, Reiter 0-2-1 (27-26). Referee: Hersey. Linesmen — Galvin, Wahl. Attendance: 5,072.