Two teams that are going downhill in the AHL Southern Division race met last night before 4,857 at the Baltimore Arena, and something had to give.
The Utica Devils came into the game winless in the past seven games, and the Skipjacks had won only twice in their past seven games.
Utica, scoring two goals in the third period, pulled away from a 2-2 tie and defeated the Skipjacks, 4-3. The Devils are 1-5-2 in their past eight games, and Baltimore is 2-4-1 over a similar stretch.
"Utica's defense played very well, and they made us pay in front of the goal," said Skipjacks coach Rob Laird. "The main reason we lost was our power play was unproductive [0-for-9]. We couldn't get the shots on goal. The poor play on the power play is frustrating because that is the part of the game we work on the most in practice. We had our chances, but we just couldn't convert them."
The loss dropped the Skipjacks 10 points behind the first-place Binghamton Rangers in the Southern Division. The Rangers defeated the Rochester Americans, 5-3, yesterday.
"Utica played an excellent road game," said Simon Wheeldon, who had a goal and an assist. "But the biggest part of our loss was our failure on the power play. Specialty teams win games in this league, and we didn't take advantage of our chances. We played very well five-on-five, but we didn't penetrate or get any rebounds on the power play. We didn't get the breaks, but then again you have to make your own breaks."
With the Skipjacks trailing, 2-1, after two periods, John Purves tied the score at 3:52 of the third period. Purves fired a shot from the right circle that went off Utica defenseman Myles O'Connor and into the net behind goalie Chard Erickson.
O'Connor made up for his indiscretion less than two minutes later when he stole the puck in the Baltimore zone and beat goalie Jim Hrivnak from just off the crease for a 3-2 Utica lead.
The Devils lengthened their lead to 4-2 when Jarrod Skalde went in alone to beat Hrivnak short-handed at 12:48.
Craig Duncanson cut the lead to 4-3, giving the Skipjacks false hope, with 40 seconds remaining.
"Our penalty killing did the job for us last night," said Utica coach Herb Brooks. "Erickson played very well for us; he was the difference. [Erickson had 24 saves and twice stopped Skipjacks breakaways.] We took too many penalties [55 minutes in a 107-minute game], and we seemed to spend all night killing penalties. The short-handed goal gave us a lift."
The Skipjacks dug themselves an early hole, allowing Utica to take a 2-0 lead in the first period.
Mike Bodnarchuk, on a 50-foot slap shot from the right circle that went through Hrivnak's leg pads at 4:02, gave the Devils a 1-0 lead. Daryn McBride's fluke goal at 13:23 gave Utica a 2-0 lead. McBride attempted to center the puck from the left corner, but the puck hit Skipjacks defenseman Ken Sabourin in the back and bounced into the unguarded corner of the net behind Hrivnak.
The Skipjacks cut the lead to 2-1 on Wheeldon's 27th goal of the season with 1:20 remaining in the second period. Wheeldon dug the puck off the right boards, cut through the faceoff circle and ripped the puck under Erickson's pads.