Pens Spoil Gardner’s Milestone Night

Late Goal Downs Phantoms 3-2 to Open Weekend

March 8, 2024

Allentown, PA – Rhett Gardner propelled Lehigh Valley’s offense with a two-goal performance to capture his 100th career AHL point, but a late third-period goal stymied the Phantoms in a 3-2 decision against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Gardner’s two-goal performance marked the second in his AHL career which spans 247 games across six seasons.

Lehigh Valley (23-23-7) came close to converting in the first period on two separate prime scoring chances. Speed in the offensive zone by J.R. Avon and Matt Brown created opportunities for Zayde Wisdom and Garrett Wilson throughout the frame, but Pens’ goaltender Joel Blomqvist remained stellar.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton proved opportunistic on their lone power-play chance in the opening period and registered on the man-advantage to grab a 1-0 lead. Only five seconds into the game’s first power play, Austin Rueschhoff finished a set play with helpers from Vinnie Hinostroza and Ty Smith at 4:28. The Phantoms held a skinny 9-8 lead in shots at the break despite trailing 1-0.

Luckily the Phantoms’ deficit was short lived in the second period after perfect execution off the rush. Victor Mete intercepted an errant pass at center ice and four men wearing Orange and Black sprung into the attack. Brendan Furry setup Rhett Gardner in the left face-off circle for an immediate blast past Blomqvist at 3:39.

The physical play unequivocally picked up later in the period to add more suspense. Late in the frame, Louie Belpedio threw a textbook hip-check on Baby Pens’ forward Raivis Ansons. Moments after the big hit, Cal Petersen sprung across his crease to rob a glorious scoring chance from the right wing on an ensuing odd-man opportunity. Big hits and big stops soon translated into a big, go-ahead goal.

Lehigh Valley received a golden opportunity to salvage their first lead of the night before second intermission, and once again, the men in Orange and Black took full advantage. Sam Poulin and Jack St. Ivany were both boxed for minor infractions to put the Phantoms on a 5-on-3 advantage.

Swift work by the special teams unit pulled the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton penalty killers towards the perimeter to open real estate for a tic-tac-toe passing play. In Harlem Globetrotter-like fashion, Gardner slammed home his second goal of the period into an open cage from Avon and Cooper Marody at 17:21.

Gardner’s lightning striking twice marked his 100th career American Hockey League point (38g, 62a) in 247 games. Also, six out of Gardner’s eight goals this season have been on our home PPL Center ice.

An entertaining third period ensued, but Wilkes-Barre/Scranton knotted the score shortly into the final stanza. Lukas Svejkovsky converted on an odd-man rush from in-tight on Petersen for his first goal of the campaign.

Nonetheless, Lehigh Valley’s special teams again answered the bell in a big moment. A successful kill of a double-minor high sticking penalty at 5:52 kept the game even. Not only was the kill successful, but Brendan Furry was robbed on a miraculous shorthanded scoring chance from the low-slot. Later in the same kill, Petersen stood tall 200 feet away by stonewalling Dmitri Samorukov on a short-side attempt. Blocked shots by Garrett Wilson and physical play to clear the net front also highlighted the successful effort shorthanded.

But unfortunately for the Phantoms, a well-played, entertaining game would end in heartbreak. Corey Andonovski registered his fifth goal of the season with only 2:08 remaining to stun Lehigh Valley. An open Andonovski tipped a feed from Ryan Shea into the cage for the eventual game-winner. Final shots totaled 29-21 in favor of the Phantoms.

Both clubs are set to rematch and complete a home-and-home set tomorrow night in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The rivalry between the Phantoms and Penguins is still just getting started, as both clubs will square-off four more times in March and  six more total times before the regular season concludes.

1st 4:28 – WBS, A. Rueschhoff (8) (V. Hinostroza, T. Smith) (PP) (0-1)

2nd 3:39 – LV, R. Gardner (7) (B. Furry, V. Mete) (1-1)
2nd 17:21 – LV, R. Gardner (8) (J. Avon, C. Marody) (PP) (2-1)

3rd 2:18 – WBS, L. Svejkovsky (1) (J. Joshua) (2-2)
3rd 17:52 – WBS, C. Andonovski (5) (R. Shea, R. Zohorna) (2-3)

LV 29 – WBS 21

LV 1/3, WBS 1/4

LV, C. Petersen (L) (18/21) (6-10-2)
WBS, J. Blomqvist (W) (27/29) (18-8-5)

Lehigh Valley (23-23-7)
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (29-19-8)

Phantoms Tickets are available HERE

Saturday, March 9 (6:05) at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
Sunday, March 10 (3:00) at Bridgeport Islanders
Wednesday, March 13 (7:05) at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
Friday, March 15 (7:05) at Providence Bruins
Saturday, March 16 (7:05) at Providence Bruins