A tight battle ensued on Friday night with both the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and Hershey Bears needing the win to keep up with the tight Atlantic Division. Coming into tonight, the Phantoms were 2nd in the division with 77 points, tied with the Providence Bruins. The Bears entered this match-up with a 3-game win streak, and they were still trying to climb up the board, placing 5th in the division with 73 points to their name.
This was absolutely a rivalry game with playoff implications, with Phantoms defenseman Travis Sanheim saying, “We’re division rivals, and these games mean a lot down the stretch here. We want to play good hockey, and we know that we have some teams catching us.”
There were a few minor penalties taken by Liam O’Brien and Zach Sill of the Bears, which only helped their 82% PK, as they easily killed them off. The Bears ended up scoring with 1 minute left in the period on what looked like an odd play behind the net; Travis Sanheim turned the puck over after a check from Zach Sill, then the puck glided along Sanheim’s body until Ryan Bourque quickly picked it up and shot it past Anthony Stolarz to give them the 1-0 lead going into the 2nd period.
Just 2 minutes into the 2nd period, Travis Sanheim was the final part of a quick tic-tac-toe play on the rush from Corban Knight and Greg Carey, where he wristed the puck over the shoulder of Pheonix Copley for his 6th goal of the season to tie the game at 1.
Just a couple minutes later, craziness ensued in the Bears crease. Copley turned it over directly to Cole Bardreau, and his shot attempt on a should-be easy goal was stopped by Copley as he got back and made the save. Then, the puck made its way to Scott Laughton, who shot it into the scramble. The players thought it was in, but the puck never crossed the line according to the review by the officials.
Another goal by the Phantoms came with 9 minutes left in the 2nd period on a wrist shot that went bar-down off the stick of Scott Laughton. The play was started on a nice saucer pass from Cole Bardreau that went through both Hershey defensemen. Laughton missed the net on a breakaway while on the PK later in the period.
After a hooking penalty committed by Corban Knight with under a minute to go in the 2nd period, the Bears took very little time to convert a goal. Paul Carey shot the puck from the faceoff dot to beat a sliding Stolarz on the glove side with 4 seconds remaining in the middle frame.
The Phantoms spent the majority of the first half of the 3rd period in the offensive zone creating scoring chances they could not capitalize on. In the latter half of the period, Mark Zengerle dished a beautiful pass through 4 Bears which caught the tape of Corban Knight. Knight one-timed the puck home for the game-winning goal with just over 2 minutes left. A last-ditch effort by the Bears with the goalie pulled was unsuccessful, and the Phantoms were able to hold onto their lead until the final horn.
Pheonix Copley had significantly a lot more work to do this game, making 33 saves, than his counterpart. Anthony Stolarz had only 21 shots against him. The Phantoms move to 38-18-3, just 4 points away from the division-leading Wilkes-Barre/Scranton(WBS) Penguins. Hershey is now 31-18-11 and and still hunting for a possible playoff spot.
- The Hershey Bears came into this game on a 3-game win streak but could not extend it to 4.
- Although the Bears left the building with a loss, Pheonix Copley was the well-awarded 2nd star of the game. Copley made some great saves, including one that was close to banking off his back and into the net from a shot that came from below the goal line.
- The LV Phantoms were coming off a 3-0 shutout of the WBS Penguins backed by Alex Lyon.
- The Phantoms now have the most successful powerplay percentage in the Atlantic Divison with 22.2%. They will need to keep that up to clinch a playoff spot for a chance to compete for the Calder Cup.
- This game was a much-needed one for the Hershey Bears, and they were not able to pull it off. When asked about playing against the desperation from the Bears, Phantoms forward Scott Laughton said, “I think we just need to focus on ourselves and not worry about their lineup too much.” That’s not something the WBS Penguins took to heart last weekend.
The LV Phantoms need to consistently win games to hold off the hard-charging teams in the Atlantic and to possibly take 1st over. The Providence Bruins are creeping up on the Phantoms, needing just 2 points to tie them. The Phantoms play the 27-23-7 Utica Comets Saturday in what will be another helpful win if they manage to play great hockey.
Again, as I see it, the Bears are currently not going to make the playoffs if they cannot consistently win games against teams in their division. Unless they can go on a large win streak, starting away against the Binghamton Senators, there is not much hope for another Calder Cup win in Hershey until next season.
The next scheduled Phantoms game for GNGHockey will be March 17 against the WBS Penguins.
Andrew Ostrosky is a writer and the Lehigh Valley Phantoms reporter for Good Night, Good Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @HockeyGuyFromSL.