BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Two quick goals in the third period turned a nailbiter of an opener into a breeze for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
The Penguins opened their 15th AHL season with a 5-2 win over the Bridgeport Sound Tigers at Webster Bank Arena. Chris Conner (his second) and Harry Zolnierczyk (his first of two) scored 11 seconds apart in the third period to break a tie.
Conner scored with 7:36 to play to give the Penguins a 3-2 lead. Brian Gibbons beat Bridgeport defenseman Andrey Pedan at the Penguins’ blue line, setting up a two-on-one. He dished to the left to Conner, who put it under the crossbar.
Zolnierczyk picked up a loose puck on the next shift and came out of the right corner to beat Anders Nilsson.
After Conner nearly completed the hat trick, denied only by the end of Nilsson’s glove, Zolnierczyk made it a 5-2 game on a three-on-two, wristing a shot through Nilsson that trickled over the goal line just ahead of Tom Kuhnhackl.
Jeff Deslauriers wasn’t tested often early but made big saves when he was, finishing with 22 in all.
“He played great,” coach John Hynes said. “He held serve for us in the second. The first half of the second period, Bridgeport was really coming at us. That segment of the game, he came up really big for us.”
He made a couple of saves on a four-on-four late in the first period, denying Ryan Strome after the Sound Tigers’ top center was left alone off an errant Penguins clear. Strome carried to Deslauriers’ left and got stopped from a bad angle.
Bridgeport scored two goals early in the second period to take a 2-1 lead, but Conner tied it with 2.1 seconds left in the second period.
Camped out at the front of the net, he got a stick on Brendan Mikkelson’s center-point shot; sprawling, he knocked in the rebound on his backhand.
“Any time you can score that late (it’s a help),” Hynes said. “We were buzzing on the power play. If we don’t score, maybe it’s a little bit of a downer.”
Deslauriers didn’t have much chance on a couple of Bridgeport goals early in the second.
Ryan Strome, the fifth pick in the 2011 draft, sent a deft backhander from the left side of the net to Anders Lee in the slot for a goal at 1:07, just 19 seconds after Mikkelson got free of the penalty box.
Bridgeport took the lead on Kirill Kabanov’s one-timer on a power play 5:33 into the second off a cross-ice pass from Dallas Jackson.
With Mike Halmo in the box for the second time in the first 12 minutes, Scott Harrington opened the scoring for the Penguins at 12:56.
New captain Tom Kostopoulos won a right-circle faceoff to Harrington, alone in the high slot. He stepped up and fired a shot past Nilsson.
It was Harrington’s first regular-season goal as a professional. He scored in last year’s Eastern Conference Final against Syracuse, joining the Penguins after finishing his junior-hockey season with the London Knights.
Adam Payerl took warmup for the Penguins but was their last scratch.
First Period — 1, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Harrington 1 (Kostopoulos), 12:56 (pp). Penalties — Halmo, Bpt (interference), 5:32; Gibbons, WBS (holding), 8:10; Halmo, Bpt (elbowing), 11:08; Leblond, WBS, major (fighting), 13:27; Gallant, Bpt, major (fighting), 13:27; Jackson, Bpt (slashing), 14:51; Kuhnhackl, WBS (interference), 16:16; Mikkelson, WBS (boarding), 18:48.
Second Period — 2, Bridgeport, Lee 1 (Strome, Pedan), 1:07. 3, Bridgeport, Kabanov 1 (Jackson, Pedan), 5:33 (pp). 4, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Conner 1 (Mikkelson, Ebbett), 19:57 (pp). Penalties — D’Agostino, WBS (hooking), 4:28; Strome, Bpt (hooking), 12:14; Gibbons, WBS (tripping), 14:09; Halmo, Bpt (slashing), 16:14; Pedan, Bpt (interference), 19:03.
Third Period — 5, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Conner 2 (Gibbons), 12:24. 6, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Zolnierczyk 1, 12:35. 7, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Zolnierczyk 2 (Gibbons), 15:41. Penalties — Despres, WBS (roughing), :58; Persson, Bpt (roughing), :58; Mikkelson, WBS, minor-major (roughing, fighting), 18:29; Sill, WBS, major (fighting), 18:29; Bruton, Bpt, major (fighting), 18:29; Persson, Bpt, minor-major (roughing, fighting), 18:29.
Shots on goal — Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 8-9-8—25. Bridgeport 4-9-11—24.
Power play opportunities — Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 2 of 6, Bridgeport 1 of 6.
Goaltenders — Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Deslauriers 1-0-0 (24 shots-22 saves). Bridgeport, Nilsson 0-1-0 (25-20).
Attendance — 7,886. Referees — Lemelin, Luxmore. Linesmen — Briggs, Wahl.