ALLENTOWN, PA — The Lehigh Valley Phantoms tried to use the “bend, don’t break” adage on defense while protecting their one-goal lead in the third period of Saturday nights game, but ultimately gave up the tying goal with ten seconds left to go. Then they ended up falling in overtime to the Laval Rocket 4-3 on the second goal of the game for Laval forward Adam Cracknell, who was claimed off waivers by the Montreal Canadiens earlier in the week. Saturday night was not all in vain for Lehigh Valley, however, as they held their annual Teddy Bear Toss night. Fans were encouraged to rain the stuffed animals down on to the ice after the Phantoms first goal was scored, and they got to do so early.
Just 1:25 into the first period, Matt Read would put the Phantoms on the board and cause the fur to go flying. Greg Carey was able to get his stick on a clearing attempt deep in the Laval zone, causing the puck to pop up in the air and fly from the far corner toward the front of the net. Read, who was turning up ice to head back toward the Phantoms zone to defend, quickly flipped back toward the Laval goal, and just barely got his stick on the fluttering puck. This deflection caused the puck to change direction and fool Michael McNiven, beating him between the pads. Then, stuffed animals began to come flying out of the stands, as the 8,512 fans at PPL Center erupted in cheers. The stuffed animals will be counted early Monday morning according to the Phantoms official press release and will be donated to Valley Youth House that afternoon. Read joins Brett Hextall (2014), Andrew MacDonald (2015) and Nic Aube-Kubel (2016) as the Lehigh Valley Phantoms four Teddy Bear Toss goal scorers.
The Rocket got their first goal on PPL Center ice in their history at the 7:01 mark of the second, tying the game at a goal each. Laval used a turnover in the neutral zone to skate up ice and into the Phantoms end on a 2-on-1. Chris Terry led the rush up the nearside wall, with Daniel Audette soaring up the other side. Adam Comrie, the lone Phantom back to defend the play, tried to lay out to block Terry’s cross-ice pass, but it got through to Audette, who fired a one-timer past Dustin Tokarski to knot the game at one goal apiece. The Phantoms answered back six minutes later, on a similar on the rush play. It was not an odd-man rush, but Mike Vecchione entered the Laval end with a purpose. He was met at the far wall by Brett Lernout, who caused Vecchione to turn and throw the puck back up the wall. Finding it was Aube-Kubel, who found Carey coming over the blueline. Carey ripped a hard shot from the top of the circle that went off the glove hand of McNiven and in to give the Phantoms a 2-1 lead.
It took till 15:21 of the third, and a friendly bounce, but the Phantoms extended their lead to two goals. A point shot from James de Haas went off a Laval defender through a pile of bodies at the front of the night and started to trickle toward the far corner. Corban Knight was the first to arrive on the scene, and he finished the play off while getting knocked down to make it 3-1. The two-goal lead did not last long, as Laval brought the game back to within one just 51 seconds later. Cracknell got his first goal of the game, with the Rocket finally getting some of the puck luck in the contest. Cracknell was able to backhand a shot off Tokarski and into the slot, and he headed behind the net from the far side. In the slot, Jeremy Gregoire got just enough on the rebound off the Phantoms netminder to get the puck to head toward the left post. From there, Cracknell reemerged from behind the net and tapped the puck into the yawning cage, making it 3-2 with time running out on the game. To this point of the game, despite the Phantoms leading, Laval had controlled most of the play. They outshot Lehigh Valley for both the first and second periods, and gained possession in the offensive end for long stretches, testing Tokarski every chance they got.
The Phantoms held their one-goal lead till the final minutes of the game, giving up shots, but not quality chances to the swarming Rocket attack. Off a faceoff in the last minute, and with McNiven off for the extra attacker, Laval would finally break through to tie. Audette got set up on the far wall by the faceoff dot and sent a pass back to the point to Matt Taormina. Taormina unloaded a slapshot, which caught the stick of Gregoire in the slot, with the deflection going up and over Tokarski with just 10 seconds left on the clock to make it 3-3 and force overtime.
During the extra session, a costly mistake would haunt the Phantoms, as a turnover in the offensive zone ended up directly leading to the game-winning goal. TJ Brennan ended up being the unlucky party on this one, but he made a great play beforehand. He dove to keep a puck in the zone, but his cross-ice pass went off a Phantom skate and sprung Terry the other way. Cracknell joined him, but Brennan sped up ice to turn the play into a 2-on-1. Brennan kept Terry toward the near side, but overplayed the Laval forward, coming all the way over himself. Phil Varone tried to get back and defend Cracknell on the other side, but Terrys pass got through both Phantom defenders and hit Cracknell’s tape. Cracknell was so in tight on the Phantoms net, that the only place the puck had to go on the deflection was into the twine, winning the game for the Rocket at the 1:16 mark of overtime.
Lost in the late collapse of the disappointing loss for Lehigh Valley was the continued success of late for their penalty killing unit. A unit that has struggled for much of this young season, their 3/3 performance Saturday night marked their fourth consecutive game without allowing a power play goal. It also made for 16 straight successful penalty kills, which is very impressive from a unit that has been in the bottom five in the league for most of the first two months of the season. Unfortunately for Lehigh Valley, they lost the game where it counts, but earned a standings point. They are now 13-7-3 through 23 games and have earned 29 standings points. They will look to finish their homestand strong this coming week, with big interstate rivalry matchups with Wilkes-barre/Scranton Wednesday and Hershey on Friday.
Tonights Three Stars:
3rd: LV Greg Carey – Goal, Assist, +1
2nd: LAV Jeremy Gregoire – Goal, Assist, +2
1st: LAV Adam Cracknell – Two Goals, +3