|The Sound Tigers have been a problem for Phantoms this season. Photo: Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey|
Written by: Tony Androckitis - Twitter/Facebook
The Lehigh Valley Phantoms (29-12-2) came up short in Bridgeport Saturday night in their final game before the American Hockey League (AHL) halts league play for the 2017 AHL All-Star Classic at the PPL Center in downtown Allentown, Pa. starting Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. ET in the classic East/West Skills Competition.
The Sound Tigers have given the Phantoms trouble this season, as Lehigh Valley in now 2-4 against Bridgeport following Saturday night's 3-2 loss at the Webster Bank Arena.While the Phantoms enter the break with wins in five of their last seven, the Sound Tigers have won seven straight and are back in a playoff spot in the tough-as-ever Atlantic Division.
In fact, the top four teams in the Eastern Conference by points percentage all play in the Atlantic Division with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (69 points, 31 games remaining), Phantoms (60 points, 33 games remaining), Providence Bruins (58 points, 31 games remaining) and Sound Tigers (52 points, 34 games remaining) in a playoff spot before the teams enter the stretch run.
The current odd man out in the Atlantic is none other than the Hershey Bears (52 points, 32 games remaining), a team that would be tied for second place in the North Division.
The bottom line is that the Phantoms are in second place in the toughest division in the league with the second highest points percentage in the league. If they continue their rate of play, they'll have a chance to beat the franchise's single-season win record and also qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time in eight years.
It's not a slam dunk for the Phantoms though. The stretch run is going to provide some really great hockey. As it stands right now, the top two teams in the AHL - the Penguins and Phantoms - meet 10 more times head-to-head in the regular season.
The Phantoms and Sound Tigers played a penalty-filled first period which saw teams exchange power plays throughout the opening 20 minutes.
After Lehigh Valley failed to convert on the game's opening power play, Sam Morin was whistled for slashing in a post-whistle scrum - sending Bridgeport to their first man advantage of the night.
That's when Scott Laughton got a puck at center ice and broke in 2-on-1 on a shorthanded rush and absolutely unleashed a cannon of a slap shot that beat Jaroslav Halak high to the glove side to give the Phantoms a 1-0 lead. Laughton's ninth of the season with 11:20 left in the opening period was assisted by Travis Sanheim, and marked nine points (six goals, three assists) in his last 11 games for the defensively-minded center.
It was turning into a pretty solid first period for the Phantoms, with a 12-6 shots advantage and some consistent offensive pressure and puck possession. However, a late Bridgeport power play allowed the Sound Tigers to even the score before the first intermission.Scott Laughton...— LehighValleyPhantoms (@LVPhantoms) January 29, 2017
Blast off! 🚀🚀🚀🚀🚀🚀🚀 pic.twitter.com/y4F2THjfFT
Joshua Winquist continued to be a Phantoms-killer, tallying his eighth of the season and fourth against the Phantoms in just three games against Lehigh Valley this season. Islanders 1st-round draft picks Josh Ho-Sang and Michael Dal Colle moved the puck around on the man advantage, with Dal Colle sending a cross ice feed to Winquist for a shot that beat Anthony Stolarz to the spot.
The two teams remained at a 1-1 tie heading into the third period, but some late 2nd period penalties provided the game's 'turning point'.
The Phantoms failed to convert on 1:34 of five-on-three power play time in the final 2:56 before the second intermission, and a Phantoms' penalty with 10.6 seconds left was converted early in the third period by Bridgeport - giving the Sound Tigers their first lead of the night.
Lehigh Valley tied the game up nearly four minutes later, with Will O'Neill blasting his third of the season past Halak from the center point with the Phantoms on a power play. Unfortunately for the Phantoms, the Sound Tigers scored on the next shift - taking the lead back at 3-2 with 13:46 left in regulation and holding off Lehigh Valley's late surge for the win.
The Phantoms pulled Stolarz for the extra attacker with just over two minutes left and had several chances to tie the game up, but Halak and the Sound Tigers' defenders pulled out the two points.
In fact, Lehigh Valley ended the game with an offensive zone face-off draw with 1:34 left and kept the puck in the offensive zone the rest of the way. A big point shot by T.J. Brennan was blocked in the final seconds and the rebound attempt never made it through.
ROSTER NOTES - Phantoms
Anthony Stolarz (18 saves - 21 shots) got the start in net Saturday night in Bridgeport, as Alex Lyon got the win last night in Binghamton - stopping 41 of the 42 shots that came his way.
Radel Fazleev, who missed most of last night's game after blocking a shot in the 1st period, did not play. It's a lower body injury.
Boyd Gordon returned to the Phantoms' lineup up front to slot into Fazleev's spot at 4C. Mark Zengerle was a healthy scratch for the second straight night.
Mark Alt came back into the lineup after sitting as a healthy scratch Friday night. Reece Willcox sat out as the extra defenseman.
Scratches: Mark Zengerle (healthy), Radel Fazleev (lower body) and Reece Willcox (healthy)
Lines (Starters in Bold/Italics)
Taylor Leier - Scott Laughton - Colin McDonald
Danick Martel - Jordan Weal - Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Greg Carey - Andy Miele - Chris Conner
Cole Bardreau - Boyd Gordon - Corban Knight
T.J. Brennan - Robert Hagg
Will O'Neill - Mark Alt
Sam Morin - Travis Sanheim
Anthony Stolarz - Alex Lyon
4:45: BST - (PP) J. Holmstrom, minor (slashing)
7:27: LV - (PP) Morin, minor (slashing)
8:40: LV - SHG Laughton (9) - Sanheim
12:53: BST - (PP) Cullity, minor (holding)
16:41: LV - (PP) Martel, minor (holding)
18:23: BST - PPG Winquist (8) - Dal Colle, Ho-Sang
13:33: LV - (PP) Bardreau, minor (hooking)
16:37: BST - (PP) Lafranchise, minor (slashing)
17:04: BST - (PP) Toews, minor (delay of game)
19:49: LV - (PP) Hagg, minor (elbowing)
1:46: BST - PPG Bernier (16) - Rowe, Toews
4:09: BST - (PP) K. Jones, minor (holding)
5:41: LV - PPG O'Neill (3) - Weal Sanheim
6:14: BST - St. Denis (8) - C. Jones, Burroughs