ALLENTOWN, PA — The Lehigh Valley Phantoms had their six-game winning streak snapped at the hands of the Hartford Wolf Pack on Saturday night, losing 5-4. The game also marked the Phantoms first loss inside PPL Center this season, after starting 4-0 on home ice. Poor special teams play finally caught up to the top affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers, and the flagship farm team of the New York Rangers made them pay for it.
Lehigh Valley got their special teams trending in the right direction again early Saturday night, with two significant opportunities. The Phantoms killed off a tripping minor on rookie Oskar Lindblom just 4:29 into play, showing that their penalty kill is improving after a rough stretch.
Hartford still struck first in the contest, with Alexei Bereglazov capitalizing on an out of position Alex Lyon. Lyon was able to make an excellent save on a tough shot during a Hartford rush, but Lyon’s effort put him on his stomach against the nearside post. Unaware that the puck had rebounded out to the far circle, Lyon stayed down. By the time he realized and was able to get up, Bereglazov already had slapped a shot toward the net, beating a sprawling Lyon to make it 1-0.
Special teams got the game tied for the Phantoms four minutes later, with Phil Myers pounding a slapshot home on the Phantoms second power-play tally. Greg Carey got the puck back to the point off a faceoff in the Wolf Pack zone, right to Will O’Neill. O’Neill sent a pass to the near side point to Myers, who fired home a one-timer to tie the game at one apiece.
Lehigh Valley got another chance on the power play late in the first that carried over into the second for a minute and 36 seconds. While the Phantoms would not score on the man advantage, all momentum seemed to be in their favor. At the 13:41 mark of the period, however, Cole Bardreau took a holding minor and the Wolf Pack capitalized immediately. Just six seconds after the minor to Bardreau, Vinni Lettieri took a pass from the point down the nearside wall and skated in. He shot a hard wrister that easily beat Lyon and just like that Hartford had the lead. The goal would be the only one of the second, with the Wolf Pack exposing the weak Phantoms penalty kill to take the lead into the third.
As quiet as the first two periods were, the third was equally as crazy. Lehigh Valley retied the game up just 20 seconds into the final frame, with Lindblom tipping home a point shot from Myers to make it 2-2. A slashing call to Lettieri 30 seconds later opened the door for the Phantoms to take the lead. Beautiful passing on the power play created the chance, with a pass from the point down the farside wall to Mike Vecchione starting it off. He then sent the puck to Lindblom in the slot, who one-touched a pass to Danick Martel at the side of the Hartford net. Martel popped his odd angle chance top shelf past Alex Georgiev, giving the Phantoms their first lead of the night on quick strikes.
The lead did not hold for long, however, as Hartford got their second power-play tally of the night three minutes later. A Dan Catenacci shot from the slot got turned out by the pad of Lyon, but the rebound went right to Adam Tambellini, who tapped it home for his team-leading fifth of the year to tie it back up at three. The tie would be erased faster than the Phantoms first lead of the night, however, as Lehigh Valley answered right back 53 seconds after Tambellini’s marker. Mark Alt skated into the slot and wristed one into the bread basket of Georgiev, who tried to cover the puck. O’Neill arrived on the scene in ill humor, however, and ended up being able to dig the puck out from underneath the Wolf Pack netminder. Alt skated in and found the puck lying at the side of the cage and sent it into the twine to give the Phantoms back the lead at 4-3.
Hartford had seen enough and decided that now would be the perfect time to strike, as they once again tied the game at the 10:15 mark. Filip Chytil was able to bang home his own rebound after his initial shot was blocked in the slot, beating a sprawling out Lyon to make it a tie game again at 4. Within ten minutes and fifteen seconds, five goals were scored between the two teams, tying and changing the lead with each puck that hit the back of the net.
It would take till there was only a minute and change left, but one team would finally take the lead for good: The Wolf Pack. The player who turned out to be the hero would be Cole Schneider. And the deciding goal would not be anything like Schneider would have imagined. A shot from the point off the stick of Bereglazov went wide of the crease and crashed off the end boards. The puck took a very awkward bounce and ended up on the tape of Schneider below the goal line. He would backhand a shot from there which somehow got underneath Lyon and in to give the Wolf Pack the lead for good.
Lehigh Valleys struggles on the penalty kill finally did them in, as Hartford’s two power-play tallies proved huge in their skating out of PPL Center with a win. Hartford went 2-for-3 on their power play, while the Phantoms were just 1-for-5, missing out on opportunities yet again in a big divisional game early in the year.
Tonight’s Three Stars
★★★: LVP LW Oskar Lindblom (1G, 1A, +2)
★★: LVP D Phil Myers (1G, 1A)
★: HWP LW Cole Schneider (1G, 2A, +3)
The Phantoms schedule does not get any easier, as they welcome the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to PPL Center next Friday night. The Phantoms floundering penalty kill will be tasked with stopping the 8th ranked power play in the AHL, along with leading power play goal scorer Daniel Sprong, who has five tallies on the man advantage this season, his rookie campaign.