Stirling Stellar for Sound Tigers

By Doug Manners

SPRINGFIELD, Massachusetts – Goaltender Evgeny Konstantinov picked up right where Jean-Marc Pelletier left off. However, it wasn’t enough for the Springfield Falcons to extend their unbeaten streak.

For the first time in seven games, the Falcons (24-27-5-0) suffered a loss. The Bridgeport Sound Tigers (26-18-9-2), backed by the stellar goaltending of Scott Stirling, snapped Springfield’s six-game unbeaten streak (5-0-1) with a 2-1 American Hockey League victory before 4,033 at the Springfield Civic Center tonight. Bridgeport is a perfect 4-0 versus the Falcons this season.

Scott Stirling, the son of Bridgeport head coach Steve Stirling, improved his AHL record to 6-0 with 34 saves, half of which came during the third period. Stirling is in Bridgeport on a professional tryout contract and will likely be heading back to Atlantic City of the East Coast Hockey League when Rick DiPietro returns from Long Island. But Stirling has made the most of his time in the AHL, posting a 2.49 GAA and .911 save percentage.

“Their goalie played great, but Georgie (Konstantinov) also played well,” said Falcons head coach Marty McSorley.

Konstantinov faced the difficult task of trying to replace the red-hot Pelletier, who was recalled from Phoenix last night after going 8-1-2 with the Falcons. Although he hadn’t played in two-and-a-half weeks, Konstantinov showed no signs of being rusty, turning aside 28 of 30 shots in yet another tough-luck loss. He’s mired in a personal six-game losing streak, but hasn’t received much offensive help from his teammates, who only chipped in for one goal this evening.

“Bridgeport did not make many mistakes,” said McSorley. “They have a bunch of talented hockey players who played very disciplined. We had to work for for our chances.”

An onslaught of penalties against the Falcons allowed Bridgeport to strike first, ending a string of eight consecutive games in which Springfield has tallied the game’s first goal. Gaetan Royer went to the penalty box at 15:38 and Jason Jaspers followed him 41 seconds later for putting the puck over the glass and out of play. Bridgeport scored just under a minute into the five-on-three advantage when Brandon’s Smith shot hit the right crossbar and dropped into the net.

The Falcons answered eight minutes into second period with Corey Foster’s third goal of the season. Brian Holzinger prevented the Sound Tigers from clearing the zone and Foster blasted a low slap shot past Stirling on Springfield’s first shot of the period. Shortly after the game-tying goal, Konstantinov made a big glove-save on Raffi Torres to preserve the tie.

Springfield held a commanding 17-6 advantage in shots during the third period, but the Sound Tigers had the only one that counted. Eric Manlow dished a pass to Mike Souza, who unleashed a wicked one-timer that beat Konstantinov at 6:48.

The Falcons pulled Konstantinov with 40 seconds remaining and had five point-blank scoring chances in the ensuing half-minute. Stirling finally covered the puck with 11 seconds left, but referee Dave Hansen whistled Bridgeport defenseman Alain Nasreddine for cross-checking. The Falcons then took a gamble, calling for a measurement of Manlow’s stick. It was ruled to be legal, therefore negating Nasreddine’s penalty. Springfield lost the faceoff to Stirling’s left and cleared the puck as the seconds ticked off the clock.

“I just wish that during the game we could have played as well as we did in the last two or three minutes,” McSorley said. “We had a little bit of a lull in the work ethic that we brought to the rink during the streak.”

The Falcons play a matinee game on Monday afternoon in Albany. The River Rats, who lost to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton earlier in the afternoon, are six points behind the Falcons in the standings.

Falcon Facts: For the second straight game, Dmitry Afanasenkov (healthy), Jason Bonsignore (healthy), Martin Cibak (broken foot) and Michael Schutte (healthy) were Springfield’s scratches…Tonight’s loss, the Falcons’ first at home in 2003, snapped their nine-game unbeaten streak (7-0-2) at the Nest…Konstantinov’s last victory (7-5) occurred on January 4 at St. John’s. His last home win (2-1 in overtime) was on December 14 against the Maple Leafs…Shane Willis’ five-game points streak ended tonight…Bridgeport leads the all-time series 8-3-1 with the two teams meeting again in Springfield next Saturday…