SPRINGFIELD, Massachusetts – Welcome to Springfield, Jean-Marc Pelletier. After three-and-a-half years with the unpopular Patrick DesRochers between the pipes, Falcon fans may have found a Phoenix goalie that they’ll gladly embrace.
Pelletier, acquired two weeks ago from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for DesRochers, turned in a strong performance tonight in his Falcon debut. Pelletier finished with 33 saves, saving the best for the third period, as the Springfield Falcons (17-23-3-0) snapped a four-game losing streak with a 3-1 American Hockey League win over the Hartford Wolf Pack before 5,373 at the Springfield Civic Center. The two rivals square off again tomorrow in Hartford (7:05 P.M.).
The trade sent DesRochers, a former first-round pick that constantly struggled with consistency in Springfield, to the last-place Lowell Lock Monsters. Pelletier was supposed to report to the Falcons on January 5 when they returned home from St. John’s, Newfoundland. However, when Phoenix goaltenders Sean Burke and Brian Boucher went down with injuries, the Coyotes summoned Zac Bierk and Pelletier from the Falcons.
“I just met the guys this morning,” Pelletier said. “It’s a good team and I think we can compete every night.”
After being beat on Hartford’s third shot of the night, Pelletier went on to stop 31 shots in a row for his second consecutive win against the Wolf Pack. Three days before being traded to the Coyotes, Pelletier stopped all 29 shots in a 2-0 Lowell victory at Hartford.
“Pelletier played very well tonight,” Falcons head coach Marty McSorley said. “He looked very big in the net. He didn’t worry about making great plays, he just seemed like he was in the right position and square to the puck. It was fun to watch.”
The Falcons also received help from Sheldon Keefe, who scored a goal in his first game since being assigned by Tampa Bay yesterday, and Jason Jaspers, who tallied his first goal in over two months. Keefe, along with Holzinger (assigned on Monday), add some much needed offensive firepower to a team that has lost its top three scorers (Ramzi Abid, Jeff Taffe, and Darren Rumble) due to recalls.
“I wasn’t so worried about losing four in a row, but that we were a depleted line-up,” McSorley said. “We lost games by one goal. Tonight, you add Keefe and Pelletier, and our line-up felt stronger. Now, we’re in another close hockey game, and we win this one.”
The Wolf Pack also received help from a newcomer. Left wing Jay Henderson, who had been playing with the Providence Bruins, was acquired by the New York Rangers from Boston today. Henderson scored the first and only Hartford goal of the game. With the Falcons on the power play, Dixon Ward made a centering pass from along the left boards in the Springfield zone to a wide-open Henderson. He skated down the slot and fired the puck past Pelletier for his eighth goal of the season.
Springfield tied the score at 1-1 with an early second-period goal. Jason Bonsignore made a pass to Keefe from behind the net, allowing Keefe to put a wrist shot over Hartford goalie Johan Holmqvist’s glove at 5:05.
Jason Jaspers scored the go-ahead goal less than three minutes later and one second after a Wolf Pack power play expired. Jaspers, who hadn’t scored since November 9 against Worcester, made a great individual play with the puck as he skated around two Hartford defenders before lifting the puck over Holmqvist’s shoulder. Holmqvist finished with 27 saves on 29 shots.
Hartford had a golden opportunity to tie the score in the third period with a five-on-three man advantage for 1:37. However, they nearly allowed a shorthanded goal when Frank Banham bid for a goal on a breakaway. He was stopped by Holmqvist, and Hartford came with inches of scoring on Pelletier soon after when Roman Lyashenko’s shot hit the left post. The Wolf Pack used their time out with 29 seconds remaining in the two-man advantage, but couldn’t come up with the equalizer.
Holzinger sealed the deal for the Falcons with an empty net goal only ten seconds after Holmqvist had reached the bench. Holzinger risked an icing call and a critical faceoff in the Springfield zone by firing the puck down the ice from his own zone. Fortunately for the Falcons, the puck found the empty net with 49 seconds remaining, tying the season series between the two clubs at 2-2.
Falcon Facts: Martin Cibak (leg bruise) and Shane Willis (broken foot) were Springfield’s scratches…Pelletier was named the game’s first star, followed by Keefe and Wolf Pack defenseman Richard Lintner, who had ten shots-on-goal…The Falcons reassigned goalie Colin Zulianello to Augusta of the East Coast Hockey League earlier in the day…Martin Grenier and Garret Burnett dropped the glove during the second period for the game’s only fight…