The Lehigh Valley Phantoms lost a third straight game for the first time this season on Friday night, falling 3-2 to the Hartford Wolf Pack.
Wolf Pack rookie netminder Brandon Halverson led the way making 42 saves on 44 shots, while the Hartford penalty kill went 7-for-7 to keep the fifth ranked Phantoms power play off the board.
With the two teams starting the night with 25 points separating them in the standings, a chippy game was the furthest thing from everyone's minds. But that's exactly what came in the first period, with the only thing written on the scoresheets being penalties. There was quite a few meetings of the minds, but nothing got severely violent.
Chris Summers and Danick Martel both got roughing minors after a scrum around the Hartford net while the Phantoms were on the power play, but nothing came of the chance. The division rivals would finish the first 20 minutes in a scoreless deadlock.
The intensity kept up in the second, with scrums amounting to another two Phantoms power plays. However, that would all happen after the Wolf Pack opened the scoring.
Chris Brown skated the puck across the Phantoms blue line and pulled up at the near side circle. He found Justin Fontaine with a cross-ice pass to the bottom of the far-side circle. Fontaine centered the puck to a wide open Marek Hrivik in the slot, who scored his 11th of the season to make it 1-0.
That would be all the scoring in the middle frame, with Alex Lyon only facing another two shots, and Halverson stopping all 11 he faced. The Phantoms did take 43 seconds of carry over power play time into the third.
That 43 seconds saw the Phantoms gain only one more shot on Halverson, who turned it aside. Lehigh Valley got another chance on the man advantage just 2:24 into the final frame, and it proved to be far more eventful.
The Phantoms threw everything they could toward the Hartford net, doing everything but score on the Wolf Pack's rookie goaltender. Halverson proved why he was the difference in the game to that point, making a huge sequence of saves during the final seconds of the power play.
Hartford for their own chance to go up a man just under a minute after killing off the Phantoms fifth power play of the game, and capitalized to extend their lead. Mat Bodie blasted a slapshot from the point that Philip McRae tipped wide passed the Phantoms net, but it went right to Nicklas Jensen. Jensen hammered a slap shot of his own, that got through into the twine to double the Wolf Pack lead.
The Phantoms answered back quickly, finally solving Halverson 90 seconds later. Mark Alt sent a missile of a one-time shot toward the Hartford goal, and the puck caught the corner and went in to cut the lead to one. Will O'Neill sent Alt a perfect feed across the top of the Wolf Pack zone, and Alts shot did the rest to earn the defenceman his first goal of the year.
Again the Phantoms got a power play chance, and again Hartford killed it off making them 6-for-6 on the PK on the night. Halverson kept up his strong play, not letting Alt's goal shake him up.
Hartford took their two-goal lead back on an unfortunate bounce for the Phantoms. McRae took the puck and skated below the goal line and around the corner boards. It was from there he sent the puck toward the front of the net. It deflected off the skated of Travis Sanheim and behind Lyon to make it 3-1.
Sanheim made up for the bounce, however, by setting up Scott Laughton to get the Phantoms back within one. He sent Laughton a pass to the far-side faceoff dot. It was from there that Laughton picked a corner a la Alt to make it a one-goal game.
Lehigh Valley pulled Lyon with 2:26 left to play to try to get the tying goal, and took their time out after an icing call against Hartford with 2:08 left. Steven Kampfer made the task more manageable for the Phantoms, taking a delay of game minor with 35 seconds left to give the Phantoms their seventh power play.
Hartford's penalty killers and Halverson came up big yet again, holding of the Phantoms comeback attempt until the final horn sounded. The drama and physicality of the game set up the perfect recipe for an eventful rematch on Saturday night between these two teams.
3. Nicklas Jensen (HWP) – Goal, -1
2. Philip McRae (HWP) – Goal, Assist, +1
1. Brandon Halverson (HWP) – 42 saves