By Dan Hickling
It seemed to come out of nowhere, this imitation of a modern day Johnny Bower.
In fact, it came from Bridgeport, or more correctly, Bridgeport Sound Tigers goalie Kevin Poulin, who came within a period-and-a-half of breaking the “Great Wall's” AHL shutout string.
As it was, Poulin stitched together three complete shutouts while blanking the opposition for a whopping 221 minutes and 54 seconds.
That was just 27:57 shy of the 249:51 skein put up by Bower back in 1957 while tending the nets of the old Cleveland Barons.
Bower, of course, went on to win the AHL's MVP honors, and eventually earned enshrinement in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Poulin's efforts have paid more modest dividends, but certainly not unimportant ones, namely a four-game winning streak that has breathed a bit of life into the struggling Tigers. Before he tapped into his inner Johnny, Bridgeport was touching the bottom rung of the 15-step Eastern Conference ladder.
Coming as it did during what should have been a killer stretch of seven out of eight tilts on the road, instead, Poulin's hot streak has pushed the Tigers to within three points of the final playoff spot.
“Obviously,” said Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson, “when you get goaltending, that breeds confidence. The guys are very confident with Poulin in the net right now.”
Poulin's flirtation with Bower's AHL mark was short-circuited by rookie Calle Ridderwall of Providence, who tallied at 3:37 of the second period.
“The shutout is always nice,” said Poulin, who now has five shutouts for his career, “and rewarding. But what's done is done. Now it's on to the next game.”
Although the AHL record book will be free from revisions for a while, Poulin did goaltend his way into the Sound Tigers' club annals.
While tossing up his third consecutive whitewash – at Portland – he jumped past Rick DiPietro's (Winthrop, Mass.) 9-year-old club mark of 156:09.
According to Poulin, who was the Islanders' fifth-round selection in 2008, he was unaware of that accomplishment until reporters brought it up.
“I didn't know,” said Poulin. “I had no clue. I was just going into the game like I always do, to give the team a chance to win.”
As well, Poulin has now made 10 consecutive starts for the Tigers, also a team record.
Around the AHL
It was little surprise that Poulin's feat earned him the AHL's Player of the Week honors. … Last summer saw plenty of affiliate hopping between AHL and NHL clubs, and there is a chance that more of the same could be in store following this season. One marriage that will stay intact, however, is the one the Springfield Falcons have with the parent Columbus Blue Jackets. The two clubs extended their player development agreement for another two seasons through 2013-14. At the same time the Falcons extended their lease with the MassMutual Center through the same period. According to Falcons president Bruce Landon, waiting until the end of the season to assess other options was, well, no option, in his mind. “I am very happy with Columbus,” said Landon, “and did not even consider talking to anyone else. Columbus, despite our mediocre on-ice performance to date, has been a good partner. We need some stability and this certainly helps. Having nine regulars on the injured list has affected the team and Columbus can’t control that. They have spent a lot of money to try and make this a good team.” The Falcons, winners of three straight, are one of five clubs jammed within three points of the final Eastern playoff spot.
Dan Hickling can be reached at email@example.com.