ALLENTOWN, PA — Friday night’s tilt featured a battle of the American Hockey League’s top two teams at PPL Center, when the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins squared off for the second of 12 meetings this season.
Taylor Leier (pictured) nabbed the game winner, Colin McDonald added three assists, and Anthony Stolarz made 34 saves to lead Lehigh Valley to a 5-3 decision over the Atlantic Division leaders.
It did not take the Phantoms long to whip the crowd into a frenzy, as they caught the Penguins flat footed and struck just 39 seconds into the opening period. A shot by Leier went wide, but the puck came to McDonald behind the net. He threw the puck out front, and it deflected off the stick of Wilkes-Barre’s Dominik Simon, but found Scott Laughton in the slot. Laughton wired a shot top shelf that beat Penguins netminder Tristan Jarry over the glove.
The goal was Laughton’s fourth in the last six games.
Things settled, but a penalty by Derrick Pouliot would douple the Phantoms lead a little less than 12 minutes later. With Pouliot off for a slash, Jordan Weal found T.J. Brennan at the near point, and he moved in a couple strides and he also beat Jarry upstairs glove side.
The Penguins found their game for a few minutes, and it got them on the board about four minutes later. Off of a faceoff, Jean-Sebastien Dea got the puck in the slot, and put the puck off the right post and in. Assists went to Josh Archibald and Teddy Blueger. The goal was Dea’s 10th of the season. The Phantoms took a lead to the room, while the Penguins dominated in shots, 17-11.
Lehigh Valley caught the Penguins sleeping to start the second, and quickly restored their two goal lead. An inability for Wilkes-Barre to keep the puck in the offensive zone allowed McDonald to find Leier in on a two on one with Robert Hagg, and Hagg finished off a cross-ice feed for his third of the season.
Archibald had a great chance from the slot seven and a half minutes in, but he missed wide. Pouliot then almost cut the lead to one with 7:55 left, but he hit the post. You could begin to sense that maybe the Penguins were going to turn things around.
Midway into the final period, they did exactly that. Ryan Haggerty deflected an Ethan Prow shot fron just inside the zone at 9:14. Then, just 1:37 later, David Warsofsky put one home with a slapshot from the point.
Suddenly, the game was tied….for 60 seconds.
A recovery off of a turnover by Coin McDonald lead him to find Taylor Leier, and Leier blasted a slapper from just inside the zone that went where? Over Jarry’s glove hand and just under the crossbar.
The Penguins fought hard to tie it, but a blocked shot by the Phantoms’ Cole Bardreau led to Chris Conner getting an easy tap in empty netter to close out the scoring.
Notes: Radel Fazleev and Reece Willcox were assigned to the Reading Royals of the ECHL after the game day skate, meaning the lone healthy scratch was Nicolas Aube-Kubel. Willcox scored a goal in Reading’s win over the Adirondack Thunder. Boyd Gordon drew into the lineup, playing in his first non-rehab AHL game in more than 10 years. He played on the fourth line and killed penalties.
3) WBS-Teddy Blueger (2 Assists)
2) LV-Colin McDonald (3 Assists)
1) LV-Taylor Leier (Goal, 2 Assists)
Up Next: The Phantoms three in three division gauntlet continues when they host the third-place Providence Bruins Saturday at 7:05.