|Photo: Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey|
Written by: Tony Androckitis - Twitter/Facebook
A back-and-forth Friday night tilt ended with the Springfield Thunderbirds (21-23-9) ahead in a 5-3 win over the Lehigh Valley Phantoms (36-15-2) - a missed opportunity for the Phantoms with Atlantic Division leading Wilkes-Barre/Scranton dropping their fourth straight game.
A win by Lehigh Valley tonight would have brought the Phantoms within five points with a chance to make it a three-point margin for first place in Saturday's meeting with the Penguins. Instead, the two bitter rivals in Pennsylvania will meet for a Saturday showdown in one of eight head-to-head meetings between the teams down the stretch.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves and start looking ahead to tomorrow night's game, some credit is due to the Thunderbirds who not only won their fourth in a row but with wins coming against the Phantoms tonight and the division leader Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last weekend as well.
Springfield isn't going to catch the playoff teams in the Atlantic Division, but they're making it tough for contenders to gain any kind of an edge in the standings when facing them. The Phantoms return to Springfield next Friday night for a rematch.
Quick recap of events after the jump.
ROSTER NOTES - Phantoms
Anthony Stolarz (30 saves - 34 shots) got the start in net for Lehigh Valley tonight in Springfield. Alex Lyon served as Stolarz's backup goaltender and is expected to get the start Saturday versus Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, whom he is 1-0 against this season with a 1.00 goals-against average and .968 save percentage.
Steven Swavely blocked a shot during the third period last Sunday in Utica, and left the game. It's safe to say Swavely will likely miss several weeks as he was seen at Thursday's practice with his left hand/wrist in a cast.
Mark Alt, who left Sunday's game very early and didn't return according to teammates, was a full participant in Thursday's practice and appears ready to go this weekend.
Taylor Leier (concussion) will miss his 10th straight game, having not played since the AHL All-Star challenge on January 30th. Leier skated briefly with the team at practice Thursday at PPL Center, but was the only skater wearing a green jersey and he exited the ice about 15-20 minutes after I arrived for the 10:30 practice. There are no updates being given on Leier's status or a timetable for his return from Phantoms' head coach Scott Gordon.
Boyd Gordon, who left in the Wednesday home game against Binghamton after a sliding BSens' forward crunched into his legs in the corner boards, is expected to miss a few weeks with a knee injury.
Scratches: Steven Swavely (upper body), Taylor Leier (concussion symptoms), 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 - Chris McCarthy - Cole Bardreau
T.J. Brennan - Robert Hagg
Will O'Neill - Mark Alt
Sam Morin - Travis Sanheim
Anthony Stolarz - Alex Lyon
The Phantoms played well in the opening three and a half minutes, and held a 4-1 shots advantage through the first half of the period before getting the game's first power play with 7:32 left before the 1st intermission.
That's when the Phantoms' power play went to work, setting up Greg Carey for his league-leading 16th power play tally of the season with 6:55 left in the 1st period. Andy Miele took a pass from Carey at the half-wall, scanning the offensive zone before sending the puck to the right of Thunderbirds goaltender Reto Berra to Corban Knight.
With the puck on the goal line at the side of the net, Knight feathered a perfect pass to Carey on the backdoor for a knee-drop one-timer that Berra had no chance of sliding across and stopping. Carey's 24th gave Lehigh Valley a 1-0 lead.
Springfield responded well, getting some sustained offensive pressure late in the first period - drawing themselves a pair of power plays and tallying five out of the last six shots on net before heading to the first intermission with some carry over power play time in a 1-0 hole to the Phantoms.GOAL GIF: Greg Carey's (24th) power play goal from @CorbanKnight & @Andy_Miele gives #LVPhantoms a 1-0 lead with 6:55 left in the 1st. pic.twitter.com/b1Qsyqykvi— Tony Androckitis (@TonyAndrock) February 25, 2017
The Thunderbirds didn't score on the carry over power play time, but they out-played and out-worked the Phantoms in the opening five plus minutes of the middle frame. They were rewarded for it not long after killing off a Phantoms' power play opportunity.
Kyle Rau and Paul Thompson each scored their ninth goals of the season for the Thunderbirds just 56 seconds apart to turn a 1-0 Phantoms' lead into a 2-1 Thunderbirds advantage.
Head coach Scott Gordon opted to use his timeout right then and there - attempting to turn things around after a slow start to the middle frame. Though not instant, the timeout and subsequent media timeout on the ice saw the Phantoms surge right back into the game.
The Phantoms responded and did one better than Springfield, tallying two goals just 15 seconds apart to re-take the lead at 3-2. First, Cole Bardreau threw one at the net and Radel Fazleev was in position to backhand a rebound past Berra to even the game at 2-2.
Fazleev's 5th of the season came at 11:27, and the Phantoms got a power play before the puck was dropped because Thunderbirds defenseman Josh Brown tackled Andy Miele behind the net after Fazleev's goal - causing a scrum to break out.
Lehigh Valley capitalized right away off the face-off, scoring seconds later when Fazleev set up Chris Conner for Conner's 17th of the season. T.J. Brennan added a secondary assist on Conner's power play tally and go-ahead goal.GIF REWIND: @Fazleev29 backhands one in to tie game at 2-2 before a scrum breaks out. #LVPhantoms pic.twitter.com/QLerNpZS1K— Tony Androckitis (@TonyAndrock) February 25, 2017
The crazy momentum swings continued late in the second period, but it was the Thunderbirds getting the final punch - tallying a pair of goals to take a 4-3 lead over Lehigh Valley into the third period.
Dryden Hunt deflected Thompson's shot past Stolarz with 3:49 left before the second intermission, and 2:14 later Thompson beat Stolarz for the second time - low to the near side - to put the Thunderbirds back in front.
It wasn't for a lack of chances that the Phantoms were unable to post a third period comeback against the Thunderbirds tonight. They just couldn't seem to pick the corners when they needed to most. Several shots just missed the mark, and when they were on target Berra was in position to make the stop. Springfield rode their veteran goaltender and shut down the Phantoms offensively in the final frame to pick up their fourth straight win.
The Phantoms pulled their goaltender for the extra attacker with 2:08 left to play, but shortly after Denis Malgin stole a puck and sent it to Hunt for Hunt's second tally of the night to seal the deal with 1:59 left in the 5-3 final score.
12:28: SPR - (PP) Rau, minor (tripping)
13:05: LV - PPG Carey (24) - Knight, Miele
16:45: LV - (PP) Carey, minor (tripping)
18:57: LV - (PP) O'Neill, minor (delay of game)
3:06: SPR - (PP) Rau, minor (closing hand on puck)
8:07: SPR - Rau (9) - Acolatse, McIlrath
9:03: SPR - Thompson (9) - Malgin, Downing
11:27: LV - Fazleev (5) - Bardreau
11:27: LV - Bardreau, minor (roughing)
11:27: SPR - Brown, minor (roughing)
11:27: SPR - (PP) Brown, minor (roughing)
11:42: LV - PPG Conner (17) - Fazleev, Brennan
13:17: LV - (PP) Aube-Kubel, minor (interference)
16:21: SPR - Hunt (6) - Thompson, Malgin
18:35: SPR - Thompson (10) - Hunt, McCoshen
5:34: SPR - (PP) Hunt, minor (high-sticking)
9:54: SPR - (PP) Rau, minor (holding)
14:25: LV - (PP) Knight, minor (tripping)
18:01: SPR - ENG Hunt (7) - Malgin
19:45: LV - Brennan, major (fighting)
19:45: SPR - Horvat, major (fighting)
Lehigh Valley Phantoms 1 - 2 - 0 = 3
Springfield Thunderbirds 0 - 4 - 1 = 5
Lehigh Valley Phantoms 5 - 12 - 8 = 25
Springfield Thunderbirds 6 - 20 - 9 = 35
LV - Anthony Stolarz (30 saves - 34 shots)
SPR - Reto Berra (22 saves - 25 shots)