The Lehigh Valley Phantoms dropped a huge game on Friday night, losing to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, 4-1.
The loss pushes the Phantoms backward to now being five points out of first place in the Atlantic Division, the position held by those same Penguins.
Lehigh Valley came out poised and ready to go for the start of what could possibly be the biggest weekend of their season. The Phantoms were skating hard and hitting everything in their path I the first, and their hard work would pay off.
Pinning Wilkes-Barre in their own zone for a minute and a half, the Phantoms forced the Pens to take a penalty. Sahir Gill took the minor for hooking, giving Lehigh Valley an early power play chance.
The Penguins penalty kill, which was ranked first in the entire AHL coming into tonight, held the Phantoms off for the first 1:53 of the man advantage. Then Maxim Lamarche struck.
Mark Zengerle tried a shot pass across the slot to Lamarche for a one-timer, but a Wilkes-Barre skate got in the way. However, the puck ended up at Lamarche's feet and he blasted the puck past Tristan Jarry to make it 1-0 Phantoms.
The Phantoms played a very sloppy second period and let Wilkes-Barre not only back in the game, but to take the lead. The Pens threw 15 shots Alex Lyon's way during the middle period, getting two by him.
The first came while Lehigh Valley was on the power play on a bad turnover by T.J. Brennan. Teddy Blueger stole the puck from Brennan, and sent it cross ice to Josh Archibald who wired a shot through Lyon to tie the game.
The Pens second goal came off more bad puck luck for the Phantoms. A shot from Frank Corrado went wide of the Lehigh Valley net and took an odd bounce off the end boards. Lyon stayed at the far post, not seeing where the puck was, while it was trickling out the near side. It was there Ryan Haggerty pounced on it and dumped it into the yawning cage to give Wilkes their first lead of the night.
Wilkes-Barre added to their lead a little over halfway through the third. Kevin Porter won a draw on the near side dot in the Phantoms end, and dropped the puck back for Tom Kostopoulos. Kostopoulos then drilled a shot, catching Lyon off-guard and beating him high to the glove side to make it 3-1.
The Phantoms got a late power play opportunity, and even pulled Lyon with 46 seconds left on it and 2:56 left in the game. Wilkes-Barre's top ranked PK went to work again however, shutting the 6-on-4 down.
Lehigh Valley took their timeout with 1:18 left to play, but right off a faceoff in the neutral zone the Penguins scored on the empty net. Blueger led the charge into the Phantoms zone against no opposition, and passed over to Dominik Simon for the dagger.
Lehigh Valley played sloppy for 40 minutes on Friday night and it ultimately cost them the game. They'll have to have short memories though, because they rematch with these same Penguins in 24 hours in Wilkes-Barre. A huge two points will again be at stake on Saturday.
3. Tristan Jarry (WBS) - 29 saves on 30 shots
2. Tom Kostopoulos (WBS) - Goal, +1
1. Josh Archibald (WBS) - Goal, +1