WATERTOWN — In their regular-season finale, the Watertown Wolves used Friday night’s game against the Danbury Hat Tricks as a tune-up for the playoffs.
Yet things got out of hand for the Wolves after building a two-goal lead as the Hat Tricks stormed back to win in the final seconds of overtime on Dmitry Kuznetsov’s goal to edge Watertown, 3-2, in a Federal Prospects Hockey League game before 1,015 fans at Watertown Municipal Arena.
Kuznetsov scored a pair of goals for Danbury (36-21-3), which won for the first time in Watertown (43-12-4) this season.
“This is definitely good, it’s been a long season,” Kuznetsov said. “It’s been close some games and some games weren’t so close when we were a little short. But this definitely felt good, especially before the playoffs, that’s big for us.”
Nolan Slachetka and Jimmy Lodge each scored a goal, and goalies Gregory Hussey and Adam Beukeboom combined to make saves 42 saves to pace the Wolves, which squandered a 2-0 lead heading into the third period.
“I think we played a great 40 minutes and then in the last 20 minutes were decided to take it off today and it ended up costing us,” Wolves veteran forward Ahmed Mahfouz said. “It’s just the way the game goes, it’s the last game of the regular season playing I don’t want to say meaningless hockey for the past two weeks, but it almost felt that way. So it’s nice to get this over with, we’re all ready to go for the playoffs and looking forward to it.”
The Wolves had already clinched first place in the league as well as the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. Watertown, which will receive a first-round bye in the playoffs right into semifinals, will open the postseason at a date sometime next week, which will be announced.
“To be honest, we were just trying to kill 60 minutes and get everybody out unhurt,” Watertown coach Brent Clarke said. “We didn’t play everybody, we switched our goalies halfway through, but no excuse, we lost. But I thought we did a lot of good things that we were working on in practice over the course of the game.” The Wolves finished the regular season with franchise bests in wins (43), points (129), winning percentage (.729) as well as in goals scored (209). These bested the previous franchise marks set in the first season of the franchise when the Wolves the league title in 2014-15, with Clarke the head coach.
“It will be nice to have a few days off here,” Clarke said. “But obviously we’re here to win a championship.”
Meanwhile, Danbury entered in third place in the circuit with hopes of catching second-place Columbus, as the top two teams in the league receive first-round byes.
The Hat Tricks came back to tie the game with a goal each in the third period from Kuznetsov and Phil Bronner, with Bronner’s goal coming with 9:43 left in regulation.
In overtime, Kuznetsov took a pass from Brett Jackson and sent a wrister up high to beat Beukeboom with 9.3 seconds remaining.
“Those were two really good shots, they were really good shots that went in,” Clarke said of Kuznetsov’s goals.
Frankie McClendon made 36 saves, including stopping all five shots he faced in overtime, to record the win. Beukeboom finished with 19 saves.
“They’re definitely a top contender in this league, we’re definitely going to have to go through them in a run for the Cup,” Mahfouz said. “We’re looking forward to it and this isn’t an indicator about what can happen in the playoffs, we’ll be ready.”
The Wolves had seized a 1-0 lead on Slachetka’s goal 14:06 elapsed, with Kolby Steen and goalie Hussey assisting on the goal.
Lodge then scored 2:58 into the second period, with Alexander Jmaeff assisting, for a 2-0 advantage.
Watertown won the season series with Danbury, winning 10 of 16 games, and entered having won seven straight home games against the Hat Tricks.
“Watertown is a tough team, so it’s nice to win here,” Kuznetsov said. “Maybe we’ll play them in the playoffs, I think that would be a good series.”
Wolves team captain Justin MacDonald sat out the game as a healthy scratch. MacDonald finished the regular season with 60 goals and 117 points, both franchise records.
Earlier in the week, MacDonald was selected as the league’s most valuable player.
“I think we’ve got a championship group here,” Mahfouz said. “We’ve got all the confidence in the world in every guy in this dressing room, we’re just ready for the playoffs to get going.”
This week, the Wolves also hired Paul MacLean as assistant coach. MacLean, who served as Wolves head coach in the 2019-20 season, also served as an assistant under Clarke when he coached the Elmira Enforcers.
MacLean most recently coached as an assistant with the Delaware Thunder.
Wolves owner Andreas Johansson said the league playoffs could start Monday, and he hopes the team’s first game in a semifinal series would be played Friday, on the road, with the next two games played at home Saturday and Sunday, if necessary.
“This is what you play for, you don’t get too many opportunities to get the job done,” Mahfouz said. “I’ve got three (titles) in my career, I’m looking for my fourth one, I’m looking to go out and a ring for my last year here.”
■ NOTES: The Wolves wore special blue and black jerseys to promote Autism awareness that were auctioned off afterward. ... Watertown defenseman Ryan Devine has been suspended for three games by the league and sat out Friday’s game.