(Tommy Hendricks/Sports Talk Philly)
By Tommy Hendricks, Sports Talk Philly staff writer
It was the 100th regular season game at PPL Center on Saturday night, and it was a memorable game. The Lehigh Valley Phantoms were down late and managed to come back to tie, before ultimately surrendering the winning goal to Charles Hudon and the St. John's IceCaps in a 4-3 loss.
Lehigh Valley controlled much of the game, but the second period would be the turning point.
Unlike Friday night's meeting between these two clubs, it was the Phantoms who controlled much of the early play. St. John's got a power play just 4:38 into the game, but Lehigh Valley killed off their 14th straight penalty to keep the game scoreless.
The Phantoms got a power play of their own three minutes later, but were unable to open the scoring themselves despite great zone pressure.
Robert Hagg finally broke through with 24 seconds left in the period, joining the rush in the offensive zone. He took a pass coming over the IceCaps blue line from Andy Miele and skated into the slot. Using a defender as a screen, he wristed a shot toward St. John's goalie Yann Danis. The puck caught Danis in between his pads and trickled through over the line to make it 1-0.
All the momentum the Phantoms had gained got swept away in the middle frame, with the IceCaps scoring three straight goals to take a commanding 3-1 lead. The first came just 2:33 into the frame, as a point shot off the stick off Tom Parisi got through traffic and in on Alex Lyon. Lyon made the initial save, but Nikita Scherbak was right on the doorstep to tap the puck in.
Then St. John's scored on a power play to break the Phantoms streak of 14 straight penalties killed. Chris Terry blasted a one-timer from the far-side circle past Lyon to make it 2-1. The goal was Terry's 17th on the season, and completely tilted the ice in his team's favor.
Adding to the lead, Mark MacMillan finished off a cross-crease pass from a beautiful effort by Anthony Camara to make it 3-1. Camara came speeding down the far-side wing, going forehand to backhand to get to the bottom of the circle. It was there that he went cross-crease to MacMillan, taking the life out of the 8,450 in the crowd at PPL Center.
The Phantoms put some life back into that crowd, scoring a controversial goal to make it a one-goal game going into the third. A Will O'Neill point shot found its way through to Danis, but the rebound stayed in the crease. The ensuing scrum at the front of the net caused Danis to get knocked over, but Mark Zengerle put the puck in. The call on the ice was a good goal, and after a review, plus a protest from the IceCaps, it was a 3-2 game.
The Phantoms carried that momentum into the third, getting an early power play and continuing to pressure the IceCaps zone. The power play turned into a 4-on-4 with Miele going off for a hold less than a minute later, but it did not stop Lehigh Valley from trying to turn the tide.
At the 10:42 mark of the third, the Phantoms got a much-needed power play and a chance to tie the game. Lehigh Valley did everything but score on the man advantage, getting plenty of pucks toward the IceCaps net. Zengerle got the puck at the top of the near side circle, and spotted O'Neill at the bottom of the far side circle. O'Neill took the pass from Zengerle, and zipped a pass across the blue paint in front of Danis to a wide open Colin McDonald, who scored the tying goal. The Phantoms captain scored just five seconds after the power play had expired.
St John's took their one-goal lead back just three minutes later, with Hudon beating Lyon with a snap shot from the slot.
The goal forced the Phantoms to play from behind again, but they continued to press, pulling Lyon with 1:54 left to play. They controlled the play in the St John's end, and got a shot through to Danis that he held with 1:32 left to play. The Phantoms put everything they had into trying to tie the game late, nearly missing the twine on three or four separate occasions. Unfortunately for Lehigh Valley, St. John's held on to their 4-3 lead, and split the two games series at PPL Center.
The Phantoms get back to work next Tuesday with a rivalry game against the Penguins on the road in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Head coach Scott Gordon on what went wrong for his team tonight: "I think they capitalized on us being up too far on the 2-on-1. It was a bad seven minutes, that's the bottom line. That's the difference in the game really. I don't think the rest of the second period or the third period went bad. We spent time in the offensive zone and tried to generate chances, but that seven minutes killed us. We shouldn't be in that situation to have to come from behind in the third period."
3. Nikita Scherbak (STJ) – Goal, 2 Assists, +2
2. Colin McDonald (LV) – Goal, Assist, +1
1. Charles Hudon (STJ) – Goal, 2 Assists, +3