The Sound Tigers rode a rollercoaster this postseason.
After the emotion of Game 1 when Kieffer Bellows riffled a shot past Ilya Samsonov in the second overtime, things looked bleak for the Sound Tigers after dropping Games 2 and 3. Game 4 came around and Stephen Gionta was able to open up the scoring, but like game 1, two quick goals by the Bears had them ahead. At the start of the third period, Oliver Wahlstrom continued his hot start to his pro career with a goal at 1:58 of the third period to tie the game at two. The teams would head to a second overtime of the series. It would not take long for the Sound Tigers to win it. Matt Lorito put a shot on goal and it slipped by Vitek Vanecek to win it and force a Game 5 back home in Bridgeport. Aaron Ness would be making his return to the lineup for the Bears after the former Sound Tigers captain was stretchered off the ice after a brutal hit from Travis St. Denis in Game 1.
It would be the first decisive game in 13 years, since the 2006 Playoffs against Wilkes Barre away from home. It would also be the first decisive home playoff game since 2004, also against Wilkes Barre, a game where Konstatine Koltsov won the game on a 3-on-2 beating Wade Dubielewicz in overtime.
Game 5 would begin with Matt Lorito scoring again to give the Sound Tigers a 1-0 lead 7:30 into the first period. The Sound Tigers held the lead until Steven Whitney put one in to tie it up at 1. A few minutes later, Wahlstrom scored once again to give the Sound Tigers a 2-1 lead, but Riley Barber scored to tie it.
It was a back and forth affair in the third period. Both teams traded shots at the goal post. Chris Bourque had a breakaway chance on Samsonov after a turnover, but Samsonov went out above the crease and shut down his former teammate. Bourque would also fire one off the post, and Wahlstrom had a major chance, but Samsonov, as he was all series, was spectacular. Chris Gibson had by far his best game as a Sound Tiger in the fifth game.
The game went to overtime where Brian Pinho got loose between two defenders, took a shot which deflected off a Bridgeport defenseman and trickled past Chris Gibson. It was a moment which gave longtime Sound Tiger fans a flashback to Koltsov’s goal in 2004. A moment which stunned the big crowd at Webster Bank Arena, and the entire Sound Tigers team. It has now been 16 years since the last time the Sound Tigers won a playoff series. The streak lives on, and it is frustrating.
In the handshake line, there were moments between Bridgeport players and Aaron Ness, who for some guys, he was their captain. After the game as the players were coming off, Stephen Gionta was hugging the players, as he was very emotional. Many people were thinking that Gionta’s career was over, but after the game, he told Mike Fornabaio of the CT Post that he was not sure and is not 100% on the decision.
To look over the season, the Sound Tigers had a super strong season, one of the best in team history. But many people wonder, would the same nucleus come back next season? Connor Jones, a friend of the program, signed with HC Thurgau in the Swiss League with his brother Kellen. Chris Bourque signed with Red Bull Munich in the DEL. Kieffer Bellows and Oliver Wahlstrom will be back with the organization, two key pieces to the team’s playoff run, but will they make the NHL? Matt Lorito will be back. It will be interesting to see what he can do in a full season. Tanner Fritz and Travis St. Denis will be back. Josh Ho-Sang’s future is uncertain. He is an RFA this coming summer, but there will be talks of him leaving.
Get ready for another rollercoaster this offseason, one that should end positively with new faces leading the way.
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