Portland Pirates Escape With 4-2 Verdict in Phantoms Homestand Opener
March 20, 2016
Lehigh Valley, PA – The Phantoms had comeback inspiration in their Sunday evening homestand opener at PPL Center but eventually the Portland Pirates were able to hang on with a late empty-netter sealing a 4-2 victory. Another big sellout crowd welcomed back the Lehigh Valley skaters in their first home game in over two weeks.
The eighth consecutive sellout and 19th overall this year greeted the Lehigh Valley Phantoms with 8,422 converging in downtown Allentown on the first day of spring. And many of the fans stayed later in another great post-game interaction event on Phantoms Autograph Night with all of the players meeting with their loyal followers on the concourse.
In a touching pregame tribute and ceremonial puck-drop that opened the evening, the Phantoms provided their own Dream-Wish scenario for a local child who has recently been diagnosed with a fatal disease. Eight-year-old Kaleb Holder has a rare malady called A.L.D. (Adrenoleukodystrophy) and received a huge, standing ovation when he came out to drop the puck. Kaleb was also treated to an opportunity to meet the guys on the team as well as a VIP tour of the whole building including the locker-room, the suites and the press-box.
Trailing 3-0 early in the second period, the Phantoms closed the gap to 3-2 against the affiliates of the Florida Panthers on goals by Adam Comrie (5th) and Chris Conner (14th) but Wayne Simpson’s empty-net goal with a minute left clinched the W for the visitors. The Phantoms generated the better of the chances for the bulk of the game but the early slow start is what made the difference in the contest.
“The rest of the game I thought we had some pretty good opportunities,” Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon said. “But we dig ourselves a hole in the first 10 minutes and are down two-to-nothing.”
Former Adirondack Phantom Shane Harper led the attack for the Pirates. His ninth goal of the season started the scoring and then he added an assist later on. Harper played for the Phantoms for three seasons in Adirondack. His overtime winner on January 6, 2012 against the Hershey Bears in the Outdoor Classic in front of an AHL-record 45,653 fans in Philadelphia is one of the great moments in franchise history. He was injured and unavailable to play in the previous PPL Center meeting on February 12th so this was his first-ever game at the dazzling, new facility in downtown Allentown.
Harper started the scoring early for the Pirates with a close-range rebound chip through Jason LaBarbera. Harper’s goal at 2:57 provided Portland with the initial 1-0 advantage.
The Pirates doubled that margin before the midway mark of the opening frame when they were able to pounce on a turnover and send winger Wayne Simpson free on a quick breakaway for a backhand conversion. The former teammate of Shayne Gostisbehere at Union College deposited his fourth of the season and first of two goals on the night for a 2-0 cushion at 9:02 into the game.
The Phantoms built momentum after the slow start and just missed on a power-play chance in the closing seconds of the period when Brett Regner was barely able to deflect away a cross-crease pass from Petr Straka while Danick Martel was in mid-swing right behind him for what would have likely been an easy tap-in goal.
Lehigh Valley turned up the pressure even more to begin the second and had Pirates veteran netminder Mike McKenna on his heels but Harper connected with Rocco Grimaldi racing up the right wing who snapped home his 16th of the season on the short-side for a 3-0 Pirates lead just over a minute into the second period.
The Phantoms had a golden opportunity to start their comeback push a few minutes later when Portland took a pair of infractions on the same play. With two full minutes of 5-on-3, the deficit-cutting goals were right there for the taking for Lehigh Valley with 13 minutes remaining in the second period. But a number of deflected shots and passes helped the undermanned Pirates squad grind through the key penalty-kill unscathed.
Adam Comrie would eventually spark the comeback with his goal from center-point at 12:16. His drive appeared to be headed towards the stick of Danick Martel stationed to the left of the cage. But the hard slapper deflected off of Portland’s Connor Brickley and in just past the left post. Phil DeSimone and Mark Alt helped set up the team’s opening tally and were credited with the assists on the play.
“Great play by Phil getting it from low to high,” Comrie said. “Was just trying to get it past that first guy. Didn’t even quite get it on net but got a lucky bounce of their guy’s stick and it went in.”
After only four shots in the first period while still finding their groove, the Phantoms poured it on in the second with a 15-shot barrage on McKenna serving notice they weren’t going away quietly despite the early deficit and unlucky bounces.
Another power-play opportunity awaited the Phantoms at the end of the second and beginning of the third but once again the Pirates stingy penalty-kill made their way through the disadvantage holding the hosts at bay.
Lehigh Valley kept on charging throughout the third and eventually were successful in closing the gap even further. With goaltender Jason LaBarbera pulled in favor of an extra-attacker, the Phantoms employed a lineup of five forwards plus hard-shooting defenseman Adam Comrie.
After a quick faceoff win, Chris Conner found himself with an opening directly behind the Pirates net. Never one to pass up a shooting opportunity even when it appears none exists, the 32-year-old veteran winger apparently called “Bank” and fired the puck off the back of the left elbow of McKenna. Before a hard-charging Martel or Straka could connect with the opportunity, the puck would dribble across the line on its own. Conner received credit for a goal from a most unusual angle and, more importantly, the Phantoms were within a single tally.
The Phantoms quickly brought LaBarbera back to the bench again in search of the equalizing extra-attacker conversion but Simpson for Portland stepped up from the right boards and buried an empty-netter right off a quick interception.
Portland’s 4-2 decision concluded the four-game season-series between the Phantoms and Pirates. Lehigh Valley out shot Portland 30-24. The Phantoms were 0-for-4 on the power play while the Pirates finished at 1-for-4.
The Phantoms were without injured forwards Colin McDonald and Aaron Palushaj and also injured defenseman Max Lamarche.
Lehigh Valley continues their homestand with a trio of great rivalry matchups this week. Wednesday night the Hershey Bears invade PPL Center. Then on Friday and Saturday it’s the Providence Bruins and Hartford Wolf Pack. Purchase your tickets in advance at PPLCenter.com or call (610) 347-TIXX 8499 or in person at the Mealey’s Furniture Box Office located at the TIm Horton’s entrance of PPL Center at the corner of Seventh and Hamilton.
RISE UP! Reserve your season tickets for the 2016-2017 season of Lehigh Valley Phantoms hockey. For more information on how to reserve your seat at PPL Center to the hottest ticket in town, call the Phantoms front office today at 610-224-GOAL (4625)!
Portland Pirates 4 at Lehigh Valley Phantoms 2 – Status: Final
Sunday, March 20, 2016 – PPL Center
Portland 2 1 1 – 4
Lehigh Valley 0 1 1 – 2
1st Period-1, Portland, Harper 9 (Rau, Gaunce), 2:57 (PP). 2, Portland, Simpson 4 (Knight, Schremp), 9:02. Penalties-Smith Lv (interference), 1:09; Rosehill Lv (goaltender interference), 5:53; Matheson Por (delay of game), 18:00.
2nd Period-3, Portland, Grimaldi 16 (Harper), 1:17. 4, Lehigh Valley, Comrie 5 (DeSimone, Alt), 12:16. Penalties-Knight Por (hooking), 6:42; Regner Por (high-sticking), 6:42; Regner Por (hooking), 19:18.
3rd Period-5, Lehigh Valley, Conner 14 (Martel), 18:31. 6, Portland, Simpson 5 18:53. Penalties-Comrie Lv (slashing), 7:04; Rosehill Lv (roughing), 19:47.
Shots on Goal-Portland 8-8-9-25. Lehigh Valley 4-15-13-32.
Power Play Opportunities-Portland 1 / 4; Lehigh Valley 0 / 4.
Goalies-Portland, McKenna 26-14-2 (32 shots-30 saves). Lehigh Valley, LaBarbera 7-14-0 (25 shots-21 saves).
Referees-Jake Brenk (42), Garrett Rank (48).
Linesmen-Bill Lyons (27), Jud Ritter (34).
Upcoming Home Games:
Wednesday, March 23, 2016, Hershey Bears vs. Lehigh Valley Phantoms, 7:05 p.m.
(Health Care Workers Appreciation Night. Non-Profit Awareness Night.)
Friday, March 25, 2016, Providence Bruins vs. Lehigh Valley Phantoms, 7:05 p.m.
Saturday, March 26, 2016, Hartford Wolf Pack vs. Lehigh Valley Phantoms, 7:05 p.m.
(Fan Appreciation Night.)
In the midst of their 20th season of operation, the Phantoms are coming off their Inaugural Season as the Lehigh Valley Phantoms playing at the brand-new PPL Center. Established in 1996, the Phantoms spent their first 13 seasons at the Spectrum in Philadelphia before re-locating to Glens Falls, New York in 2009 where the team spent the next five seasons as the Adirondack Phantoms. A new era of Phantoms hockey began in the fall of 2014 when the Lehigh Valley Phantoms began play at the state-of-the-art PPL Center. Through 19 incredibly successful campaigns, the Phantoms have captured two Calder Cup Championships (1998, 2005), two Conference Championships (1998, 2005), two Regular Season Titles (1996-97, 1997-98) and four Division Championships (1996-97, 1997-98, 1998-99, 2003-04).