(Kate Frese/Sports Talk Philly)
By Tommy Hendricks, Sports Talk Philly staff writer
The Lehigh Valley Phantoms stayed alive again on Saturday night, beating the Hershey Bears in Game 4 of their first-round Calder Cup Playoff matchup, 4-1.
The win, backstopped by a strong 27-save performance by Martin Ouellette, forces a winner-take-all Game 5 at PPL Center on Sunday at 5 p.m.
The game marked the first time a game in the series was not decided by a single-goal margin. The Phantoms goals came from Danick Martel, Mark Zengerle, and two from Scott Laughton.
Lehigh Valley came out and dominated the first 20 minutes of a game in this series for the 3rd time out of the three contests played, and went to the room after 20 with a lead. The teams picked up their physical intensity in Game 4, something that kind of was a non-factor in Game 3.
The Phantoms outshot the Bears, 12-3, over the first period, and scored the only goal. At the 16:51 mark, Martel scored his first of the playoffs off a feed from Andy Miele. Pheonix Copley kept play alive after he had a chance to melt things down. A clear up the boards found Miele at the point, who threw a pass back down low to Martel at the right side of the Bears net. Martel skated across the crease, going from his forehand to the backhand and beating the sprawling Copley to make it 1-0.
Lehigh Valley kept their momentum going to start the second, with Zengerle extending their lead just 4:25 into the frame. Zengerle accepted an outlet pass from Travis Sanheim to break out of the Phantoms zone on an odd man rush. Using the other forward with him on the 2-on-1 as a decoy, Zengerle skated up ice and entered the Hershey zone. He skated across the top of the circles, firing a wrister through the legs of Bears defenseman Tom Gilbert and by the blocker-side arm of Copley to make it 2-0.
From there however, things got interesting. The Bears started to make their presence felt, going to the attack after killing off a penalty to Chandler Stevenson 11:21 into the period. Hershey used the momentum to keep the Phantoms up against the ropes, and it would be Stevenson himself scoring to cut the lead in half.
The Bears forward, playing in his first playoff game this season, split two Phantoms defenders at the top of Lehigh Valley's zone and picked the blocker side corner on Ouellette to make it 2-1. This brought the crowd at Giant Center back into the game, giving Hershey even more fuel for their fire.
The Phantoms got a late power play that took some of the momentum back in their favor, but were unable to score, taking just a one-goal lead into the final period of play.
The Phantoms knew that small of a lead would not be enough, and decided to add to it early in the third. Just 4:48 into the period, Laughton scored the first of his two goals to put the deficit for the Bears back up to two goals.
Laughton made a great move into the Bears zone to split two Hershey defenders and get in on Copley alone on a partial breakaway. He faked to his backhand, getting the Bears goalie to lean just enough to create some space. Laughton then flipped the puck up into the top shelf of the net to make it 3-1 Phantoms.
Hershey would not go quietly however, getting right back to pressuring the Phantoms and looking to cut the lead again. The Bears swarmed the Lehigh zone for what seemed like full periods of play at a time, shelling Ouellette with shots from all angles. Ouellette played some of his best hockey of the season, keeping Hershey at bay with timely saves and melting down play when he knew his team was in trouble.
With 3:37 left to play, Hershey called their timeout with a looming faceoff coming up in their offensive zone. They pulled Copley off the faceoff, giving themselves a 6-on-5 chance to get right back into the game. Ouellette again became the difference, making huge stops to keep it 3-1. His defense in front of him came up large as well, blocking shots and clearing chances before they even materialized. One of those clears ended up on the stick of Laughton, who iced the game with his second goal into the empty net.
The Phantoms have been known to come back and tie, or even win games when it seemed they had their backs against the wall all season. While the comeback is not completed quite yet in this series, the Phantoms have overcome a 2-0 hole to again tie when it seemed all was lost. They will look to finish off another improbable comeback tomorrow afternoon at home in Game 5.
1. Mark Zengerle (LV) – Goal, +12. Scott Laughton (LV) – 2 Goals, +23. Danick Martel (LV) – Goal