ABBOTSFORD, B.C. - Brian Connelly finally rediscovered his scoring touch for the Abbotsford Heat.
The offensively gifted defenceman scored with 11.9 seconds to go in overtime to lead the Heat to a 4-3 victory over the Chicago Wolves Friday night in American Hockey League action.
Connelly took a feed from Ben Walter and beat Matt Climie glove side for his sixth of the season.
"It all started in the D-zone," said Connelly. "We created a turnover and I saw an opportunity to jump in. Wally (Ben Walter) made a good pass across the ice. I just tried to put it on net and it went in."
It was his first goal in 23 games since the Calgary Flames acquired him in a trade for Brendan Morrison. When he joined the Heat he was second among AHL defencemen in points but has just eight assists for the Flames' affiliate.
"I've been trying to create opportunities and get shots but they haven't been going in," said Connelly. "It's good to get that off my back and hopefully it springboards me into the rest of the season."
Greg Nemisz, Krys Kolanos and Clay Wilson all scored in regulation time for Abbotsford (36-26-8). Though the Heat blew a 3-1 lead, goalie Leland Irving made 28 saves, including all 10 over the final 25 minutes to preserve the win. Abbotsford now has a two-point cushion in fourth place in the Western Conference standings.
Darren Haydar, Kevin Connauton, and Mark Mancari scored for Chicago (38-25-6).
Climie stopped 40 shots for the Wolves, who moved within three points of second-place Toronto by earning a single point for the overtime loss.
"I think there were a lot of positives,” said Mancari. "I think it was pretty close to a playoff game, if you look at how the game was played. We made a few mistakes we didn't want to make, and goals that resulted from us not getting the puck out."
Part of the reason for the playoff atmosphere was the 7,044 fans at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre, just the fourth sellout all time and first since Nov. 2010. Many of the fans came to cheer on the Wolves, however, the nearby Vancouver Canucks’ affiliate.
"The majority of them are Canucks fans so it's a little different," said Abbotsford's Jon Rheault. "But when you can feed off that energy, energy is energy and when this place is full it's a lot of fun to play in front of. They're a dangerous team when they're playing for their brass and all their scouts are here so they obviously bring a little extra oomph, if you will, when they come here."
Chicago forced the extra period with back-to-back goals in the second period. The Wolves' Connauton scored a power-play goal at the 16:25 mark of the period to make it 3-2 for Abbotsford.
Just over a minute later, Mancari one-timed a feed from Haydar and beat Irving cleanly for his 28th of the season to tie it 3-3.
Before arriving in Abbotsford this week Chicago's power play was ranked last in the AHL but got hot at the right time, going 1 for 2 on Thursday and 3 for 4 on Friday.
"We looked at our power play, and we weren't really content," said Mancari. "We weren't moving our feet — we were just passing the puck and hoping something happened. And I think the last few games we've been moving our feet and putting guys in front of the net, and just letting pucks go."
Conversely, Abbotsford's penalty killing unit was ranked fifth entering Friday. However, the Heat are more upset about the penalties they took than the goals against.
"I think we could have really put them away until we took a couple penalties," said Rheault. "That's something that we have to address and it's been a problem all year. But five-on-five I think we are a much better team."
That score stood until the extra period.
Chicago opened the scoring in the first on the power play. Haydar crossed the blue-line with speed, made a move by a diving defender and beat Irving glove side at 13:04 for his 18th of the season.
Just after a power play expired at 16:37 of the first the Heat tied the game 1-1. Nick Tuzzolino crossed the blue-line and fed Nemisz at the right faceoff dot, where he went top shelf for his 13th of the season.
Abbotsford took its first lead of the game at 5:05 of the second. Climie was unable to handle a Quintin Laing wrist shot from the slot and Kolanos was in the crease to shovel home the puck for his 24th of the season to make it 2-1.
Wilson's 15th of the season doubled the Heat's lead at 8:26. Walter drove hard towards the goal, went behind the net and centred for a streaking Wilson in the low slot. Rheault earned the second assist.
Rheault had missed 20 games with an injury and had not recorded a point since Jan. 14.
NOTES: The Canucks affiliate is 9-1-2 all-time when playing in Abbotsford, stretching back to when the team was the Manitoba Moose. … Chicago is on a season-high seven-game road trip, playing in six cities.