Finally, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms escaped their extended losing streak. After falling victim to four-straight losses, the Phantoms edged the visiting Charlotte Checkers 3-2 on Wednesday night.
The game was not without its drama and uncertainty. After going up 2-0 in the middle period, the Phantoms put their victory in jeopardy, surrendering two-straight goals to the opposition. Fortunately, some late-game heroics kept Lehigh Valley’s victory intact.
With the hopes of putting an end to their four-game losing streak, Lehigh Valley started the night off right. Just 3:37 into the opening period, Pascal Laberge beat Charlotte netminder, Alex Nedeljkovic, for his first AHL goal of the season. The Phantoms recalled Laberge up from the Reading Royals on Tuesday and he immediately demonstrated his stint in the ECHL paid off. Mikhail Vorobyev and Matthew Strome both recorded assists on the goal.
Laberge’s tally stood as the lone goal in the first period. Alex Lyon kept the Checkers off the board, stopping all 13 shots. There was one close call where it appeared as though Charlotte might have squeaked one by Lehigh Valley’s netminder. However, after further review, the referee determined that no goal had been registered.
Through the first 20 minutes, the Checkers outshot the Phantoms 13-8. Both teams committed one minor penalty. Nicolas Aube-Kubel committed a hooking penalty that Charlotte could not capitalize on. Then, as the period surpassed the 19-minute mark Charlotte’s Colin Markinson committed a tripping penalty. As the horn sounded to end the period, the Phantoms remained on the power play eager to build off their 1-0 lead.
Lehigh Valley did not capitalize on the brief powerplay time to start the middle period. Still, it only took seven minutes for the Phantoms to extend their lead to 2-0. Mikhail Vorobyev posted in front of Charlotte’s net and scored his fifth goal of the season and second point of the night. Tyler Wotherspoon and Andy Welinski recorded assists on the play.
The second period kept rolling along with no other goals to speak of. This was because of great goaltending by Lyon for most of the tilt. The Checkers kept piling on scoring opportunities and Lyon kept steering them away. Unfortunately, Charlotte finally got one past Lyon in the final minute of the second. Casey Bailey found the back of the net to cut Lehigh Valley’s lead in half heading into the second intermission.
In more concerning news, German Rubtsov appeared to have suffered an injury midway through the second period. He went into the locker room holding his shoulder. The second-year pro did not return to the contest, leaving the Phantoms with ten forwards for the remainder of the game.
Less than five minutes into the final period, Charlotte completely erased the once two-goal deficit. Hunter Shinkaruk got in close and beat Lyon to even up the game at two goals apiece. For most of the game, it appeared as though Lehigh Valley was going to experience smooth sailing for the rest of the evening. Then, in a span of five minutes on the ice, the Phantoms were in serious danger of suffering their fifth loss in a row.
As the third period continued along, it was looking more and more like the Phantoms would be playing some more overtime hockey. Luckily, Gerry Fitzgerald had different plans. The first-year Phantom potted his first goal of the season to give Lehigh Valley a 3-2 lead with 3:40 left in the game. Nate Prosser and Wotherspoon were awarded the assists.
To keep things interesting, the Checkers put a shot on net just 15 seconds after Fitzgerald’s goal that warranted a video review. After checking everything out, it was determined that Charlotte did not score and the Phantoms were able to hold onto their 3-2 lead and come away from the contest victorious.
The score might say something different; however, the Charlotte Checkers were the better team for most of the night. They outshot the Phantoms by 12 and really applied constant pressure on Alex Lyon. Luckily, Lehigh Valley’s goalie was on his A-game, preventing Charlotte from capturing the win.
All that truly matters is that Lehigh Valley’s losing streak is no more. They record a much-needed win and will now look to build off that momentum this upcoming weekend. Forward Pascal Laberge looked solid in his return to the Phantoms, posting one goal on three shots and remaining a presence on the ice throughout the game. Vorobyev also looked strong Wednesday, registering a goal and an assist.
Unfortunately, a dark cloud still looms over Wednesday night’s contest. The fact that German Rubtsov left the game with an apparent shoulder injury is a major cause for concern. After missing a good portion of last season due to season-ending surgery, missing extended time again this season could prove to be costly.
The Lehigh Valley Phantoms will look to get a few more in the win column with two games on tap this upcoming weekend. Friday night, the Phantoms will once again host the Charlotte Checkers. Then, on Saturday, they will play host to the Belleville Senators.
Mandatory Credit: Alex McIntyre