ALLENTOWN, PA – The Lehigh Valley Phantoms went down by two early on Wednesday night despite controlling play but were able to bounce back and earn a point in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Hartford Wolf Pack.
The Phantoms looked to be in trouble early in the first period, taking two penalties in the opening 4:12 of the game. Hartford came in with a power play in the top five in the league, while Lehigh Valleys penalty kill was floundering at the bottom of the AHL. The matchup seemed to favor the Wolf Pack heavily, but it was the Phantoms coming out victorious on the opportunities. They killed both penalties off, and took the momentum and ran with it. They kept peppering the crease of goalie Marek Mazanec but were unable to beat the Hartford netminder.
The Wolf Pack then turned the tables, scoring two goals in 1:59 to completely stun Lehigh Valley’s bench and the fans inside PPL Center. The first goal came at the 16:06 mark of the period. A four-player scrum in the far corner of the Phantoms end saw Caleb Herbert dig the puck out and send it along the boards back to the point to Ryan Graves. Graves fed Anthony DeAngelo at the other point, where the former Arizona Coyote then found Herbert circling back up to the slot. DeAngelo threaded the needle on a cross-ice pass to Herbert, which he accepted and then fired a shot off the blocker arm of Dustin Tokarski and into the net.
Then, 1:59 later, Hartford scored again making it 2-0. This time, it was a play in a scrum along the far wall in the Phantoms zone by Dawson Leedahl that got the puck ahead for Herbert. Herbert skated between the circles and sent a backhanded pass across to Gabriel Fontaine, who ripped a one-timer past Tokarski and sent the Wolf Pack to the room up by a pair even though they were incredibly outplayed through the opening 20 minutes.
Lehigh Valley struck back in the second period, tallying three goals while only allowing one to even the score back up. They cut the lead in half exactly 5:00 minutes into the period, with Reece Willcox getting his second of the season. Matt Read and Oskar Lindblom picked up the assists, but Read was the one that led the rush into the Hartford zone that allowed Willcox to drive the net. Read hit him with a drop pass, which the second-year defenseman took in stride, then deked Mazanec out of the net and potted the puck to make it 2-1.
Hartford finally got their power play on the board in the second, with Ryan Gropp finding twine off a man advantage from a fight. Brandon Crawley leveled a Phantom in the neutral zone with what appeared to be a high hit and off came the gloves of Tyrell Goulbourne. Goulbourne came to the aid of his teammate, but it was ruled he instigated the conflict, resulting in an extra two minutes on the board and a ten-minute misconduct penalty to boot. On the ensuing power play, Gropp put back a rebound off a shot from the point that beat Tokarski and went off the post, giving a Hartford bounce right to Gropp for the easy goal.
Steven Swavely answered just over 1:40 later, deflecting home a shot from the right circle from Willcox up and over the blocker of Mazanec to make it a one-goal game again. Greg Carey blasted away on a slapshot from the point with 1:09 left in the second to tie the game, as the shot from the Phantoms forward seemed to have eyes. It was a laser beam from the blueline, Carey’s 16th of the year, tying the game to head to the final 20 minutes.
Unfortunately for Lehigh Valley, they would need a comeback again, as Hartford scored to break the deadlock just six minutes into the third. Another shot from out high would be the culprit, this one coming from John Gilmour. It was going to be his second point of the night regardless, because it appeared the puck might have changed direction off the leg of Leedahl in front of the net, but the ruling was Gilmour’s goal, and we played on.
Crawley then took this second penalty of the game, this one for holding the stick, at the 7:15 mark, to give Lehigh Valley a chance to tie the game again. 11 seconds later, and it was. Right off the draw, the Phantoms went to work, with Phil Varone ending up with the puck along the nearside wall. Varone danced a bit with the puck, then skated toward the bottom of the circle. He quick fed a pass down low to Chris Conner, who was stationed below the goal line. Conner then centered to the slot for Lindblom, who snapped off a shot that just barely beat Mazanec to tie it at three. The assist on the goal, Varones second of the night, gave him 33 points on the season, good enough for a tie for the AHL lead with Hershey’s Chris Bourque.
The Phantoms would get two grade-A scoring chances in overtime but were unable to convert on either. The first came from Corban Knight, who started OT with Read and TJ Brennan. Knight got into the zone and stared down Mazanec, only to fire a shot wide of the cage. The second proved costly for the Phantoms, as Varone’s bid at the AHL point lead ended up going back the other way. Varone and Conner came in on a 2-on-1, with Varone carrying the puck in. He went cross-ice to Conner for what looked like a sure goal, but it went off the heel of Conners stick and wide. The puck then hit the end boards, bouncing to Hartford’s Peter Holland, who quickly sent the puck up the ice to DeAngelo. Joining DeAngelo was Scott Kosmachuk, and with Will O’Neill being the only Phantom back, the tables turned.
Hartford’s 2-on-1 was successful, with DeAngelo ringing the post behind Tokarski and having the puck go in for the Wolf Packs third win in three games against the Phantoms this season. All three games have been decided by one goal, and two of the three have needed extra time. Lehigh Valley drops to 0-1-2 against the Wolf Pack on the year, and will not see their divisional rivals again until February 17th.
3rd: Caleb Herbert (HFD) goal, assist
2nd: Oskar Lindblom(LV) goal, assist
1st: John Gilmour(HFD) goal, assist
Lehigh Valley’s final game before the Christmas break is Saturday in Wilkes-barre against the Penguins.