WILKES-BARRE TWP. — Wilkes-Barre/Scranton forward Chuck Kobasew found himself in an interesting position on Friday facing an inexperienced Bridgeport Sound Tigers team that is out of playoff contention.
The veteran forward with 600 NHL games under his belt, mostly at right wing, lined up at center for the first time in 10 years. Not only did Kobasew have to get up for a game against a team loaded with players just breaking in to the pro ranks, he had do it while playing a new position.
Kobasew scored a goal, got in a fight while standing up for a teammate and led by example all night as Penguins easily defeated Bridgeport, 3-0.
It was a crucial win to open this weekend’s set of three games. With division-leading Binghamton losing on Friday, the Penguins are now tied with the Senators at 86 points and the gain a four-point cushion over Albany, which trails them in sixth place in the conference standings.
And those two teams are who the Penguins will face over the next two days in what is shaping up as one of the biggest weekends of the season.
“We had to win tonight for sure,” Kobasew said. “But we can’t look to Sunday (Binghamton). Albany is a tough team coming in (today).”
Against Bridgeport, who iced a lineup featuring seven players on amateur tryout contracts and another seven who spent most of the season in the ECHL, the Penguins wasted no time taking control.
They had to.
“Teams like this can be dangerous. They have a lot of guys getting that opportunity and playing hard,” Kobasew said. “You can’t let a team like that hang around.”
The Penguins didn’t.
They gained an early lead by taking advantage of Bridgeport miscues in the first period. At the midway point, Sound Tigers goaltender Kenny Reiter misplayed the puck behind the net. Anton Zlobin swiftly scooped it up and dished a pass out to Bobby Farnham who was wide open in front and deposited the puck into the empty net.
Three minutes later, Kobasew stripped the puck away from Bridgeport defenseman Jake Newton in the offensive zone and promptly ripped a wrister past Reiter for a 2-0 lead.
“It was important to take advantage of turnovers,” Penguins coach John Hynes said. “A lot of times when you get those turnovers you ask, ‘Did you work for them?’ We did.”
In the second, Dominik Uher and Harry Zolnierczyk teamed up on a 2-on-1 shorthanded breakaway. With plenty of time and space, Uher sent a shot toward Reiter, who made the save but kicked the rebound out in front, where it deflected off Zolnierczyk and a defender and into the net.
The goal was the Penguins’ 13th shorthanded tally of the season and Uher’s third, tying him for the team lead with Brian Gibbons.
At the other end, Bridgeport made a serious push but couldn’t get anything past Peter Mannino, who stopped 17 shots for his third shutout since March 1.
“They came hard in the second but Peter came up big for us, which is what we needed,” Hynes said.
Just as big as Kobasew, who dropped the gloves with Bridgeport’s Chris Bruton after he laid a punishing hit on Barry Goers behind the net in the first period.
Kobasew’s goal and fight garnered plenty of respect from his teammates.
“You can tell he’s been in the NHL for a long time. He’s a true professional,” Uher said. “He’s there for us every night and he’s been a huge leader in every area.”
And it doesn’t matter if he’s playing wing or center for the first time in 10 years.
“It took me a little bit to get comfortable with it, the faceoffs and all that stuff,” Kobasew said. “But wherever they need me I’ll play.”
• C Andrew Ebbett was recalled to Pittsburgh late Friday afternoon.
• D Philip Samuelsson (injury), C Zach Sill (injury), RW Carter Rowney, D Harrison Ruopp, C Andrew Ebbett (recall), C Matia Marcantuoni, LW Conor Sheary and RW Bryan Rust were scratched for the Penguins.
Penguins 3, Bridgeport 0
Scoring – 1. WBS, Bobby Farnham 6 (Zlobin, Mikkelson) 10:13. 2. WBS, Chuck Kobasew 8 unassisted 13:30. Penalties – BRI, Quine (hooking) 8:11; WBS, Uher (hooking) 15:28; BRI, Bruton (fighting) 17:55; WBS, Kobasew (fighting) 17:55; BRI, Pedan (interference) 19:11.
Scoring – 3. WBS, Dominik Uher 7 (Zolnierczyk) shorthanded 17:53. Penalties – BRI, Coderre-Gagnon (fighting) 2:45; WBS, Letourneau-Leblond (fighting) 2:45; WBS, Archibald (elbowing) 16:00.
Scoring – None. Penalties – WBS, Mikkelson (interference) 3:13; WBS, bench – served by Zlobin (too many men) 6:27; BRI, Burroughs (interference) 10:03; BRI, Finley (roughing) 18:00; WBS, McNeill (tripping) 18:00.
Shots on goal
Bridgeport – 2-11-4-17; Penguins – 9-7-8-24
Bridgeport – 0 of 4; Penguins – 0 of 3
Bridgeport – Kenny Reiter 10-11-2 (21 saves - 24 shots); Penguins – Peter Mannino 9-3-1 (17-17)
Bridgeport – G Kenny Reiter, D Kyle Burroughs, D Joe Finley, LW Brett Gallant, C Chris Langkow, RW Scooter Vaughan; Penguins – G Peter Mannino, D Reid McNeill, D Brian Dumoulin, LW Harry Zolnierczyk, C Chuck Kobasew, RW Spencer Machacek
1. WBS, Peter Mannino (17 saves, shutout) 2. WBS, Bobby Farnham (game-winning goal) 3. WBS, Chuck Kobasew (goal)
Referee – Terry Koharski. Linesmen – Matt McNulty, Jud Ritter
Attendance – 6,993