Crazy 1st period pushes Penguins past Phantoms


Photo: Nina Weiss

Coming into tonight's contest against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms were just trying to stem the momentum of domination that the visitors had over them. Since a Dec. 4 victory in Wilkes-Barre Township, Lehigh Valley has been vexed by the flightless birds.

That continued on Friday night, despite the Phantoms' best efforts.

Josh Archibald had two goals, and reigning AHL Goaltender of the Year Matt Murray made 20 saves to push the visitors to a 4-3 victory before a sellout crowd at PPL Center.

Archibald got the Penguins on the board first when he deflected a Niclas Andersen point shot while cutting through the slot at 4:10. Lehigh Valley goaltender Anthony Stolarz vehemently protested for a high stick, but to no avail. Sahir Gill picked up the secondary assist. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton made it 2-0 just 51 seconds later. Dominik Uher deflected a Tom Kostopoulos shot from an insane angle.

At that point, the Phantoms started to show life. After Nick Cousins forced a turnover in the offensive zone, he found Taylor Leier alone in the slot. Leier sniped one just inside the post to Murray's glove side and suddenly the lead was cut in half.

Less than two minutes after that, Sam Gagner netted his first ever AHL goal at 8:23. He took a pass from Mark Alt and bombed a slapper from the point to the far post. Danick Martel collected an assist on the play. 

Sam Morin incredibly put the Phantoms in front when he flicked home the rebound of a Cole Bardreau shot 23 seconds later.

Scott Wilson evened the score for the Penguins at 11:50. Conor Sheary got the puck down low and he made Robert Hagg look silly, and Wilson plowed to the front of the crease where he shoveled the puck through Stolarz. Assists went to Sheary and Will O'Neill

4:04 after that, Archibald picked up his second of the night and third of the season to give the Penguins the lead for good. He grabbed the puck behind the net, skated into the far circle and whirled a shot on goal. The shot appeared to deflect off of the Phantoms' Tim Brent and in, but it was inconclusive. That ended the night for Stolarz, as Scott Gordon replaced him with Jason Labarbera.

To that point, seven goals had been scored in the first 20 minutes with five coming in the first 8:46 of the game. Stolarz had allowed four goals on 11 shots. On the Penguins, the first three shots by the Phantoms had beaten Murray.

In the second, Lehigh Valley had a golden opportunity to tie the game. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's Tim Erixon got an interference penalty at 7:14. 20 seconds later, Carter Rowney got a tripping call at 7:34. This sequence gave Lehigh Valley 1:40 of a five-on-three power play.

More bizzare, Kostopoulos and Steve Oleksy both broke sticks during the man-advantage. So, it was really a five-on-one-and-a-half advantage, and the Phantoms managed nothing more than one set up attempt in the Penguins' zone.

Archibald had a hat trick taken away late in the second. A puck he shot from the edge of the crease appeared to hit the post and bounce out. Officials immediately blew play dead and went to video review.

While they ruled no goal, television replays clearly showed the puck crossed the line.

In the third, Wilkes-Barre took a page straight out of the New Jersey Devils' playbook, trapping the Phantoms to death and preserving the victory.

Notes: Aaron Palushaj returned to the lineup, as did Chris Conner. Palushaj missed last weekend's road trip, while Conner had missed the previous three weeks with an upper-body injury. One name missing was Andrew MacDonald, who has a minor injury. With MacDonald's absence, Lehigh Valley used five forwards on the power play.

Quotes: Head coach Scott Gordon on the five forward look on the power play: "Our first power play tonight was five forwards anyway. That had nothing to do with the 5-on-3. We didn't have [MacDonald] playing tonight and he's our top guy. We have a surplus of forwards that are accustomed to playing power play. [Gagner] has played some point on the power play before, Brent has been a defenseman [on the power play] all year."

Chris Conner on returning to the lineup: "It feels great. Obviously sitting out isn't fun. I just wished we had gotten a better result tonight. We just have to get back at it tomorrow."

On needing to get victories: "I think at some point this time of the season you have to start winning those games. Sometimes that makes a difference at the end of year. We have to figure it out and start getting more points."

3 Stars: 3) LV-Jason LaBarbera (12 saves in relief) 2) WBS-Scott Wilson (Goal) 1) WBS-Josh Archibald (2 Goals)

Up Next: Lehigh Valley got on a bus immediately after the game to travel to Albany, where the face the Devils on Saturday night at 5 p.m.

Brent Baldwin is Lehigh Valley Phantoms beat writer for Flyerdelphia. Follow him on Twitter @BBFlyerdelphia

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