ALLENTOWN, PA – The Lehigh Valley Phantoms became the first team to beat the Syracuse Crunch since the Toronto Marlies all the way back on November 19th, ending a lengthy 10 game win streak Saturday night by a final of 4-2. Syracuse fought back late to try to extend their winning ways, but John Muse and the PK came up big again for Lehigh Valley.
Syracuse came into the game managing just a 6-6-2 record on the road, something the Phantoms (who were 8-6-1 at PPL Center) looked to use in their favor. They needed a hot start to get that momentum on home ice going, and could not get it. They were limiting the Crunch to minimal chances, however, but that would not be enough. The Crunch ended up getting the first goal of the game 17:53 into the first. on just their fourth shot on goal. On a rush into the Phantoms end, Mathieu Joseph carried the puck in and skated to the bottom of the left side circle. He then dropped a pass to the top of that same circle to a trailing Matthew Peca, who stepped into a huge slapper that beat Muse to make it 1-0. Even though they trailed 1-0, the Phantoms lead the shot total 10-8 after one, and also went 2/2 on the penalty kill. Something they had to be proud of after giving up four power play goals in two games against Charlotte earlier in the week.
Neither team would capitalize on their man advantage opportunities to start the second, having both improve to three for three on the night halfway through the game. After the Phantoms killed off their third penalty against, they too tried to use the rush to generate offense. That did not pay off, but it got the puck in deep. Will O’Neill ran the puck along the boards from the left side point, finding Danick Martel directly behind the Syracuse net. Martel sent a behind the back pass to Phil Varone, who was deep in the right corner, who immediately sent a one-touch pass to the front of the net. There, his pass found Chris Conner, who deflected the puck just past the right pad of Connor Ingram to tie the game.
The Phantoms were not done there, as they took their first lead of the game a little over three minutes later. Nic Aube-Kubel was deep in the farside corner in the Syracuse end, and fed the puck back to the point. There it was O’Neill patrolling again, but this time he was not trying to play the boards. He moved in and shot an off-balance wrister, which Corban Knight was able to get a stick on while standing tall at the side of the crease, redirecting it home to make it 2-1.
Lehigh Valley extended their lead with a power play goal just 1:44 later. Greg Carey got his 15th goal, tying him for the league lead with teammate Martel and WBSs Daniel Sprong. Conner fed Oskar Lindblom who was below the goal line at the side of the net, with a pass. Lindblom tried to center back to Conner, but the puck hit off bodies and started to tail toward the other corner. Carey happened to be in the right place at the right time like most goal scorers do, and he quickly ripped a backhander up and over Ingram, who was trying to follow the bouncing puck. The Phantoms used a 15-4 shot advantage in the middle frame to give them the convincing lead and put them in position to end the Crunch’s winning ways.
Syracuse came out in the third flying, trying to keep their streak alive. The Crunch got a goal back to make it 3-2 at the 12:55 mark off the third, on what was one of the few defensive lapses for the Phantoms during the game. Alexander Volkov was able to dig a puck out of a scrum along the end boards behind the Phantoms cage and step toward the circle with it. He got a centering pass off before reaching the goal line, hitting Carter Verhaeghe in the slot. Verhaeghe blasted a one-timer, which Muse got the original stop on, but left a juicy rebound. No one picked up Kevin Lynch at the side of the cage for Syracuse, and he tapped home the loose change to make it a one-goal affair.
That lasted all of 1:22 of game time. On the next shift, the Phantoms would catch the Crunch trying to press a little too hard, springing a 2-on-1 bid. Knight carried the puck in unopposed from the center ice red line and drove down the right wing. Martel joined him, with Knight having the choice to either pass or shoot. He elected to pass, hitting Martel right on the tape. Martel barely hesitated, flicking a shot off that popped off the twine and out viciously to give Lehigh Valley their two-goal lead back. The goal also broke the tie for the league lead that Carey’s goal earlier had created, giving Martel sole possession with 16.
Syracuse pulled Ingram with 4:40 to go, but Muse and the Phantoms defense held on to the two-goal lead for dear life, sending the Crunch packing. Syracuse lost for just the fourth time in their last 15 games and had their dreams of going to 11 straight ended.
Lehigh Valley came out of this game with not just Martel leading the lead in something. Varones assist on Conners goal gave him 22 on the year, good enough for third in the league. It also gave him 31 points, second in the league to only Hershey’s Chris Bourque, who has 32. The Phantoms penalty kill also went four for four on Saturday night, giving Lehigh Valley’s much-maligned special teams unit a well deserved confidence boost.
The Phantoms return to action tomorrow afternoon in Bridgeport.
3rd-Danick Martel(LV)=goal, assist, +2
2nd-Chris Conner(LV)=goal, assist, +1
1st-Corban Knight(LV)=goal, assist, 2