After beating Binghamton by the slimmest of margins Wednesday, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms knew they would be in for a battle in the return matchup Friday night in Allentown.
They just didn’t realize how much of a battle they were in for.
The Senators rallied three times from one-goal deficits, but Jordan Weal (pictured, center left) would score two goals, including the game-winner to win 4-3 in a game that saw them overtake first place in the Atlantic Division Friday night at PPL Center.
The Phantoms nearly scored 10 seconds off the opening faceoff, when Taylor Leier had a wrist shot gloved by Matt O’Connor. Binghamton would settle in, though and find their rhythm about three minutes later. Buddy Robinson flew down the right wing and nearly beat Alex Lyon on the backhand.
Late in the period, The Phantoms would get on the board first, on weal’s fifth of the season. Chris Conner had the puck below the goal line in the pie slice and found Weal in the bottom of the far circle. Weal chipped the puck off of O’Connor’s shoulder and into the net. T.J. Brennan collected the secondary assist.
The Senators’ Nick Paul would take a tripping penalty with one second left in the first, so Lehigh Valley had practically a full power play to start the middle frame. If it wasn’t for O’Connor, it likely would have been a two-goal lead in short order. He made a dazzling pair of pad saves to keep the deficit at one.
Binghamton would nearly tie the game eight minutes in. Kyle Flanagan had a glorious chance from the slot, but Max LaMarche got in the way of the shot. On a rush off that blocked shot, Nicolas Aube-Kubel would have an equally glorious chance that O’Connor got with his blocker.
Minutes later, Nick Rupert would deflect an Andreas Englund point shot past Lyon to tie the game.
The lead didn’t last long, though, as Greg Carey found Mark Zengerle in tight just 1:34 later and he would put a shot off the goaltender’s back and in, putting Lehigh Valley up two to one.
The third period was like a boxing match. One team would score, and almost instantaneously, the other would come right back. Jack Rodewald, a recent addition to the team from the ECHL’s Wichita Thunder would tie the game at 4:38. On an odd-man rush, he finished off an odd-man rush, taking a cross-ice feed from Phil Varone and beating Lyon to the far post.
2:01 later, Leier’s fifth of the season would give the Phantoms a one-goal lead once again. Leier picked up the rebound of a Brennan shot, and on the backhand, tucked it around O’Connor’s left leg. Radel Fazleev also recorded an assist.
Binghamton would not quit.
Phil Varone would collect a Ben Harpur shot off the end boards and put it in less than two minutes after Leier’s goal, tying the game a three. A Sportscenter worthy play between Conner and Weal would seal the victory seven minutes later. After taking a Danick Martel pass and with a guy on his back, Conner found Weal from behind the net with a no-look backhand pass that Weal would finish from an impossible angle.
Weal on Conner: “There’s been a few times this year where that pass has almost connected, which was a big goal for the team. It was a big two points for and now we gotta try to make it six points out of this week.When he (Conner) is going, he’s going, he’s got great vision and can handle the puck really well. So I just gotta get open and find good spots. It was working tonight, but now we just gotta keep working, keep our heads down, and get the next one tomorrow night.”
Things got hairy for the Phantoms, with just under three minutes left. Sam Morin took a tripping penalty and as the whistle blew, he clipped Rodewald in the face with his stick. He drew blood, so he got two for tripping and a double-minor for high sticking. That put the Senators on the power play for the rest of regulation, but the Phantoms penalty kill didn’t even allow a setup, salting the game away.
Notes: Andy Miele remains an injury scratch, and Defenseman Reece Willcox sat as a healthy scratch, allowing Max LaMarche to slot into the lineup.
Impressions: I’m really running out of ways to describe this team. When you think they’re out, they show resolve and fight back. Jordan Weal, simply put, is too good for this league. He is an elite talent at this level, and it really showed tonight.
3) BNG-Phil Varone (Goal, Assist)
2) LV-Chris Conner (Two Assists)
1) LV-Jordan Weal (Two goals, including the game-winner)
Up Next: Lehigh Valley stays home to entertain the Hartford Wolf Pack Saturday at 7:05.
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