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Jacks win, 5-2, regain Southern lead Simpson sparkles in Baltimore goal


UTICA, N.Y. -- One of the Utica Devils' favorite warm-up tunes is "Welcome to the Jungle."

It's also the most appropriate, because the Devils seldom lose before their hardly hospitable, hometown crowd at the Utica Memorial Auditorium.

Last night's 5-2 loss to the Baltimore Skipjacks was an exception that American Hockey League rule, and many of the 2,748 fans took exception to it.

The Jungle's natives were restless early, when Baltimore scored three quick goals, and the Skipjacks then rode the superb goaltending of Shawn Simpson to their second victory in two trips to the auditorium, where Utica had won six consecutive games.

Baltimore climbed back into first place in the Southern Division, one point ahead of the Adirondack Red Wings, who lost to the Maine Mariners, 4-3.

The Devils, beaten only by Baltimore and Hershey, are 11-3 at home. The Skipjacks also foiled Utica's opportunity for a club-record fifth straight win. In their three-plus AHL seasons, the Devils have won four in a row nine times, twice this year.

Right wing Reggie Savage had a goal and an assist for the Skipjacks (19-15-1).

Simpson, though, was the star. He made 39 saves, 13 in the first period when the Skipjacks built a 3-0 lead on goals by Alfie Turcotte, Savage and Tim Taylor, and 12 in the final period.

Czechoslovakian-born rookie Zdeno Ciger, playing his second game since his arrival Wednesday from the New Jersey Devils, scored his first AHL goal in the second period, cutting the deficit to 3-1.

Left wing Steve Seftel restored Baltimore's three-goal advantage with an unassisted goal at 17:34.

Simpson then stole the show, and robbed several Devils in the final period. He stopped Perry Anderson and Neil Brady with less than 14 minutes to play, and then snatched Mike Bodnarchuk's point-blank shot out of the air with 12:39 left.

Simpson made one more great save, stopping Jeff Madill's shot with 6:36 remaining while on his stomach.

The swarming Devils didn't close to within 4-2 until Jeff Christian's power-play goal with just 3:12 left, and Victor Gervais clinched the Skipjack victory with his empty-netter at 18:43.

Devils goalie Rollie Melanson made 24 saves in his eighth consecutive start.

These were two teams pointed in opposite directions. Utica, coming off a 6-1 road victory over Binghamton the previous night, had won a club record-tying four straight games to climb above the .500 mark for the first time this season. Baltimore had dropped two straight games, four of its last five and fallen out of first place in the Southern Division.

But it was the explosive Skipjacks, averaging just two goals in their last six games, who took command with three goals in the first 10 minutes last night.

Turcotte, who had just beaten Utica's Kevin Todd to the draw at the left face-off circle, also beat him to the crease. And just as Melanson sticked away defenseman Rob Mendel's initial shot from the point, Turcotte dove around Todd and poked the rebound in with one hand just 1:02 into the game. Turcotte's 12th goal extended his point-scoring streak to 14 games (6-10-16).

Savage scored a breakaway goal, his 19th of the season, at 7:22. The Devils were threatening when Utica defenseman Myles O'Connor's shot caromed off teammate Claude Vilgrain's leg. Thomas Sjogren then tipped the long rebound to Savage, who deked Melanson down and flipped the puck over his right pad.

Taylor, who scrambled to his feet after taking a heavy check from Utica's Bill Huard, made it 3-0 on a perfect backhand feed by Steve Maltais from behind the Devils' cage. Maltais now has points in 17 straight games (11-14-25).

Simpson was the star of the last 10 minutes of the first period, making most of his 13 saves when the line of Huard, Madill and Brady produced the Devils' best scoring opportunities. Utica defenseman Dave Marcinyshyn even raised his arms in celebration, thinking his blast from the left point had beaten the fallen goalie. But Simpson, still lying on his right side, reached up just in time to make a glove save with less than three minutes remaining in the first period.

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