Recap: Islanders 6, Thunderbirds 5 (OT)Dec 29, 2023
Ruslan Iskhakov cruised in on a breakaway and scored an incredible between-the-legs, overtime-winning goal Friday night, lifting the Bridgeport Islanders (9-17-2-0), American Hockey League affiliate of the New York Islanders, to a 6-5 win against the Springfield Thunderbirds (16-9-3-1) at MassMutual Center.
Otto Koivula helped set up the highlight-reel tally, one of a career-high four assists on the night, which tied a franchise record. William Dufour scored twice for the fourth time in his pro career, while Dennis Cholowski had a season-high three points (one goal, two assists). Grant Hutton added two points in his first game with Bridgeport since Nov. 22nd (one goal, one assist).
Between the pipes, Henrik Tikkanen (1-0-0) made 29 saves including three critical stops in overtime to emerge victorious in his AHL debut.
Springfield had allowed the first goal in six straight games, but snapped that streak just 3:38 into the contest when Hugh McGing sprung Will Bitten on a breakaway. McGing blocked Travis Mitchell’s shot from the right point in the Thunderbirds’ zone and then immediately hit Bitten in stride the other way. Bitten darted directly at Tikkanen before dishing a low shot under the Finnish goalie, who was recalled from the Worcester Railers yesterday.
Hutton and the Islanders answered back 84 seconds later to tie the game 1-1 at the first intermission. Iskhakov danced across the blue line and fed Koivula on the right side, who whipped a perfect back-door pass below the hash marks for Hutton’s one-timer. It was Hutton’s first goal of the season.
Bridgeport appeared to blow the game wide open in the second period, scoring four goals in a single frame for the first time this season. Dufour pulled off a brilliant toe drag through the right circle and snapped home his fifth goal of the season past Malcolm Subban’s blocker to make it 2-1 at the 3:00 mark. Shortly after, Cholowski scored his fourth goal of the season at the 6:03 mark, from Koivula and Brian Pinho.
Cole Bardreau redirected Hutton’s blast around Subban at 7:52 to give Bridgeport three goals in less than five minutes and extended its lead to 4-1. But the Thunderbirds clawed back with four of the next five goals to pull even at 5-5, including three goals in the third period. Two of them came on the power play.
Nathan Walker scored twice and Bitten added his second goal of the night. Ryan Suzuki also cashed in for the second time this season, while Dufour’s second goal of the contest came on an odd-man rush with Koivula at 16:04 of the middle stanza.
Koivula moved into sole possession of second place on Bridgeport’s all-time scoring list (165 points) and third place on the franchise leaderboard for all-time assists (103).
In overtime, Cholowski advanced the puck to Iskhakov through the neutral zone and the 22-year-old did the rest. He drove straight down the slot before twisting to the backhand and lifting a between-the-legs shot off the post, off the backside of Subban, and in. It was his team-leading ninth goal of the season and his team-best 23rd point.
Both teams went 2-for-4 on the power play and had six penalties for 18 minutes. The rough-and-rowdy contest featured two fights: Tyce Thompson and Austin Osmanski at 9:07 of the first period, and Sam Asselin and Wyatt Kalynuk 18 seconds into the third.
The Islanders improved to 3-2-1-0 against the Thunderbirds this season. Three of the six meetings have been decided in overtime.
Next Time Out: The Islanders bid farewell to 2023 with their final game of the calendar year, a 6 p.m. matchup against the Hartford Wolf Pack at XL Center tomorrow night. The game can be seen live on AHLTV.com or heard for free via the Bridgeport Islanders Radio Network, beginning with the Connecticut Lottery Pregame Countdown at 5:45 p.m.