|T.J. Brennan makes history Sunday in Utica. Photo: Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey|
Written by: Tony Androckitis - Twitter/Facebook
UTICA - The Lehigh Valley Phantoms battled their way to a 7-4 win in Utica Sunday evening to finish a three-game weekend taking four out of a possible six points in the standings.
The weekend was filled with adversity, but the Phantoms prevailed in back-to-back nights and all of a sudden find themselves challenging for the Atlantic Division lead again - just seven points behind rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton with two fewer games played than the Penguins. The Phantoms play the Penguins head-to-head eight more times this season.
Down 2-0 early in the second period in Utica, Phantoms' head coach opted to take the team's timeout - a decision that ultimately turned things around for Lehigh Valley and started the comeback.
The Phantoms twice tied the game in the middle period - at 2-2 just over seven minutes into the second stanza and again at 3-3 with 1:43 left before the second intermission - before taking over in the third period with four goals in route to the big win.
Defenseman T.J. Brennan made history, recording a hat trick and with his third goal of the night - an empty net tally in the final minutes - moving past Bryan Helmer into sole possession of second place all time in the American Hockey League for goals scored by a defenseman with 130 AHL goals in his career.
Brennan wasn't the only defenseman lighting the lamp for Lehigh Valley, as Robert Hagg recorded his first multi-goal game of his pro career to help pace the Phantoms' offensive attack. Chris Conner and Cole Bardreau also tallied goals in the win for the Phantoms, while rookie netminder Alex Lyon stopped 43 of the 47 shots that came his way to pick up his 21st win of the season.
The Phantoms' dominance of the North Division continues, as they are now 3-0 against Utica this season and a ridiculous 16-1-1 against teams from the Eastern Conference's other division.
Quick recap of events after the jump.
ROSTER NOTES - Phantoms
Alex Lyon (43 saves - 47 shots) got the start in net for Lehigh Valley and despite giving up four goals played a strong game between the pipes for the Phantoms. He made several Grade-A stops in crucial moments of the game.
The injuries are starting to pile up for Lehigh Valley, who saw Mark Alt leave the game sometime in the second period and never return. Steven Swavely was bothered by an ailment after blocking a shot in the third period - exiting the game and not returning as well.
Besides the change in net, Sam Morin returned to the Phantoms' lineup after serving his two-game suspension to start the weekend leaving Reece Willcox as the team's healthy scratch on defense. Swavely slotted back into the lineup for Chris McCarthy after McCarthy faced his former team Saturday night against Hartford.
Scratches: Taylor Leier (concussion), Chris McCarthy (healthy), Boyd Gordon (lower body) and Reece Willcox (healthy)
Lines (Starters in Bold/Italics)
Mark Zengerle - Scott Laughton - Colin McDonald
Danick Martel - Corban Knight - Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Greg Carey - Andy Miele - Chris Conner
Radel Fazleev - Cole Bardreau - Steven Swavely
T.J. Brennan - Robert Hagg
Will O'Neill - Mark Alt
Sam Morin - Travis Sanheim
Alex Lyon - Anthony Stolarz
The opening 20 minutes between the Phantoms and Comets looked like a matchup of two bitter rivals despite the fact that the two teams only play each other four times this season and the previous meeting was almost six weeks ago.
Lehigh Valley had three power play opportunities in the first frame, but two of those were cut short by penalties of their own. There were 10 minutes in penalties in the first period.
It seemed like after every whistle there was an altercation of some sort between the two teams.
Late in the first period, it was the Comets striking first to take a 1-0 lead. Michael Carcone got a puck up ice to Borna Rendulic in transition, who entered the offensive zone and pulled up - connecting a cross-ice pass to Jordan Subban who fired a puck over Alex Lyon's shoulder with 4:57 left before the 1st intermission.
Despite trailing Utica 1-0, Lehigh Valley was very much in the game and the first period was pretty evenly played - the Comets out shooting the Phantoms 13-12 heading into the first intermission.
The start of the second period, however, was a different story.
Utica came out flying and was dominant in the opening five minutes, and out shot the Phantoms 18-7 in the middle frame. The Comets extended their lead to 2-0 5:29 into the period, and what turned out to be a big time game-changing timeout was taken by Phantoms' head coach Scott Gordon directly after the Andrey Pedan's fourth of the season.
The decision to take the timeout proved to be monumental in turning the game around for Lehigh Valley, who drew themselves a power play on the first after the timeout and proceeded to score two goals in a span of 54 seconds to tie the game at 2-2.
First it was Chris Conner tallying a power play goal for his 16th of the season from Corban Knight and Andy Miele. Immediately following Conner's goal was an absolute cannon of a shot by Robert Hagg from the atop the left-wing faceoff circle for his 6th of the season.
Utica tallied a shorthanded goal on a back door feed from Pascal Pelletier to Cody Kunyk late in the second period, but Brennan responded with the first of his three tallies just 26 seconds later on a feed from Travis Sanheim. Danick Martel added a secondary assist on the goal and sent the two teams to the second intermission deadlocked at 3-3.GOAL GIF: Robert Hagg takes a pass from Sam Morin & BLASTS one past Thatcher Demko to tie the game at 2-2. #LVPhantoms pic.twitter.com/qEXumoe2dE— Tony Androckitis (@TonyAndrock) February 19, 2017
Lehigh Valley has dominated the third period all season long and Sunday was no different - tallying four goals to break open the game and finish the weekend with back-to-back wins.
Hagg and Brennan each tallied their second goals of the night, respectively, less than a minute apart early in the third period to take the Phantoms' first lead of the game at a 5-3 count.
Credit Utica for not folding after holding a lead for much of the night. Alexandre Grenier tallied his 15th of the season on a power play not long after Brennan gave the Phantoms a two-goal to make it a 5-4 game with 12:26 left in regulation.
In the end, it was the Phantoms prevailing - with Brennan and Cole Bardreau tallying empty net goals to complete the 7-4 final score.
8:25: UTI - (PP) Pedan, minor (slashing)
8:53: LV - (PP) Brennan, minor (slashing)
12:22: UTI - (PP) bench minor, too many men (served by Grenier)
15:03: UTI - Subban (11) - Rendulic, Carcone
15:08: UTI - (PP) Virtanen, minor (slashing)
16:17: LV - (PP) Zengerle, minor (hooking)
5:29: UTI - Pedan (4) - Virtanen, Kunyk
6:11: UTI - (PP) Hamilton, minor (holding)
6:20: LV - PPG Conner (16) - Knight, Miele
7:14: LV - Hagg (6) - Morin, Fazleev
14:05: LV - (PP) O'Neill, minor (slashing)
14:05: LV - O'Neill, minor (roughing)
14:05: UTI - LaBate, minor (cross-checking)
15:48: LV - (PP) Morin, minor (boarding)
16:38: UTI - (PP) LaBate, minor (holding)
17:51: UTI - SHG Kunyk (8) - Pelletier, Shields
18:17: LV - PPG Brennan (15) - Sanheim, Martel
19:47: LV - (PP) Hagg, minor (interference)
5:34: LV - Hagg (7) - Laughton
6:28: LV - Brennan (16) - Conner, Carey
6:33: LV - (PP) Aube-Kubel, minor (hooking)
7:34: UTI - PPG Grenier (15) - McEneny, Demko
9:47: UTI - (PP) Subban, minor (hooking)
12:32: UTI - Archibald, minor (unsportsmanlike conduct)
12:32: LV - Hagg, minor (unsportsmanlike conduct)
17:41: UTI - Robak, minor (slashing)
17:41: LV - McDonald, minor (diving/embellishment)
18:25: LV - ENG Brennan (17) - Lyon
19:48: LV - ENG Bardreau (8) - McDonald
Lehigh Valley 0 - 3 - 4 = 7
Utica Comets 1 - 2 - 1 = 4
Lehigh Valley 12 - 7 - 14 = 33
Utica Comets 13 - 18 - 16 = 47
LV - Alex Lyon (43 saves - 47shots)
UTI - Thatcher Demko (26 saves - 31 shots)
Attendance: 3,870 - sellout crowd at Utica Memorial Auditorium
Attendance: 3,870 - sellout crowd at Utica Memorial Auditorium