OTTAWA – The Hamilton Bulldogs may not have been feeling their best Friday night, but they still had enough left in the tank to get past the Binghamton Senators.
Alexander Avtsin scored the game’s lone goal as the Bulldogs held off a flu bug and the Senators 1-0 in American Hockey League play.
“We’ve got a couple of guys a little under the weather there, it’s the grind I guess, and fortunately we persevered,” Bulldogs coach Randy Cunneyworth said.
One of those players affected by illness, starting goaltender Curtis Sanford, combined with Robert Mayer to stop all 33 shots they faced.
That was enough to make the goal by Avtsin, who broke a scoreless tie with 6:30 left to play in regulation time, stand up as the winner.
Mayer came on in relief of Sanford and made 25 saves in two periods of play to win the goaltending duel with Robin Lehner and earn the victory for Hamilton (13-3-4).
“Robert played very sharp and he had a lot of help in front of him—between the two, it was a good combination to keep the puck out,” said Cunneyworth, who was returning to the building where he once served as captain of the Ottawa Senators.
Lehner made 17 saves for Binghamton (10-9-3).
The game was played in Ottawa as the back end of a home-and-home series in the respective buildings of the teams’ NHL parent clubs.
The Bulldogs skated off with a 5-2 victory when Binghamton visited Montreal’s Bell Centre on Nov. 5.
Goals were much harder to come by this time, although both teams had some good chances, particularly the B-Sens, who were coming off a 5-2 victory over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at home a night earlier.
Despite the presence of Bobby Butler, who led the AHL in goals with 14 coming into the game, and Corey Locke, who was tied for the league-scoring lead with 27 points, they couldn’t find a way to solve either Bulldogs’ goalie.
The Bulldogs started Sanford, who had won four straight contests, but he was replaced by Mayer to start the second period after Sanford stopped eight shots.
The parent Senators have been struggling to score goals lately at the NHL level and, with Ottawa’s management and coaching staff in attendance after their 2-1 loss in Pittsburgh earlier Friday, the same affliction struck their farm team.
“We wanted to come in here and play well, so it’s definitely disappointing,” said Butler, who’s at the top of the fans’ and media list of players to be called up to help Ottawa’s offence.
Butler had a couple of the best chances to do some damage but Mayer, a rookie from the Czech Republic, denied him from in close. Butler’s best shot knocked the stick out of Mayer’s hand but didn’t make it into the net.
Jim O’Brien had a great chance to put Binghamton on the scoreboard with Hamilton on the power play midway through the third when the Bulldogs gave the puck away in front of their net, but Mayer was equal to the challenge.
“I had a bunch of chances tonight and I didn’t hit my spot,” said Butler, who doesn’t have a goal in the past four games. “Hopefully, the chances will start going in for not just me, but for everybody.”
Moments after that man advantage expired, the Russian Avtsin managed to slip a rebound under Lehner after the puck caromed off the end boards when Aaron Palushaj shot wide. It was all the offence that the Bulldogs would need.
The shutout was the 21-year-old Mayer’s first in the AHL.
“It was tight out there and the energy levels were kind of ebbing and flowing a little bit there,” Cunneyworth said. “The special teams did some good work, especially on the penalty kill from our end. It’s tough to score out there when guys are putting their bodies in harm’s way. It’s hard to get the puck to the net.”
Notes: Montreal assigned forward Hunter Bishop to Hamilton from Wheeling of the ECHL in time for Friday’s game. . . Bulldogs right-winger Ian Schultz sat out the contest while serving the first of a two-game suspension.