Sunday, December 14, 2014

Tired but feisty Phantoms drop OT decision to Devils in AC

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor 

Atlantic City, NJ -- There are few places a hockey team would want to finish up a grueling weekend of action and travel in mid-December other than the Jersey Shore.

For the second time in two weeks, the Phantoms found themselves in historic Boardwalk Hall, and they wound up on the wrong end of the score for the second time in that span.

Tim Sestito ended the contest at 2:50 of overtime in the 4-on-4, notching his second of the game and giving the Albany Devils a 4-3 decision over Lehigh Valley in front of a sparse crowd at Boardwalk Hall on Sunday afternoon.

Joe Whitney tallied twice in the third period, while Paul Thompson and Reid Boucher added two assists each for the Devils (12-9-5), who put an end to a three-game skid. Scott Wedgewood made 29 saves and improved to 11-4-4 on the season.

Taylor Leier, Zack Stortini and Andrew Gordon supplied offense in a spirited final 20 minutes for the Phantoms (11-10-4), who were coming off a 2-1 shootout home win against the Baby Pens on Saturday night. Rob Zepp took the loss despite stopping 33 pucks.

LV lost 4-2 to Albany on Nov. 28. 

Albany's Graham Black nearly ended things two shifts prior. His harmless shot from the right wing managed to squeeze through Zepp and squirt to his right within inches of the goal line. His path to the net obstructed, a Phantoms defender was able to prevent a second chance try from inside the crease.

But Sestito was able to slam home a Boucher rebound from the right side, and Albany improved to a near iron-clad 10-0-0-1 this season when leading after two periods.

In the early stages, the Phantoms appeared to have no ill effects from the previous two nights while the Devils skated as if they needed to find their legs. After failing on the game's first power play, the hosts got on the board when Thompson intercepted a clear and fed Sestito for a successful shot from the left side at 13:43 of the first period.

Wedgewood was operating with ease, able to square himself to all shooters, and the one time he wasn't -- with five minutes played in the second period -- he flopped from right to left in his crease well enough to force Kevin Goumas to shoot slightly high and wide on what appeared to be an open net.

Lehigh Valley's best chance late in the frame occurred while shorthanded with just under five minutes before intermission. Jason Akeson won a puck battle in the neutral zone, broke in up the right wing, cut to the front and pulled Wedgewood out of position with a deke, but he waited a second too long to fire and a Devils backchecker swept the puck away.

The visitors couldn't click with 1:11 worth of a 5-on-3 power play which carried over into the early stages of the third period. Goumas had another prime chance to even the score with just over five minutes played, but shot through the crease from the right post with a half-open net staring at him.

Late in the next shift, Leier, who left the game in the first period when struck in the right hand with as shot, finally beat Wedgewood for a 1-1 tie at 7:17.

It was Stortini, who played as placid and disciplined a game as one could expect when his teammates committed five restraining fouls, who gave the Phantoms a 2-1 lead with 9:40 left in regulation. He stayed with a Steven Delisle rebound at the left post, and managed to sneak his shot past a scrambling Wedgewood.

Brett Hextall went off for a tripping call with 9:14 to play and Albany cashed in for a 2-2 deadlock with eight minutes even as Whitney popped home a shot for his ninth goal of the season. The momentum swung back only 27 seconds later when Goumas dished to Gordon, who fired away from between the circles and netted his seventh of the year.

Whitney struck once more, this time with 5:41 showing, and the game was tied at 3-3, but Zepp was quick with the right pad to deny the Boston College product a hat trick and game winner with six seconds before the buzzer.

Lehigh Valley ended this stretch of six games in six days spread out over two weekends at 2-2-2. Terry Murray's club returns to the PPL Center later this week and welcomes Binghamton (Wednesday) and Hershey (Friday).

Notes: Sestito's last three-point effort came on Nov. 14 against Portland ... Following the contest, the Phantoms revealed that defenseman Robert Hagg has been loaned to Team Sweden for the upcoming World Junior Championships which are scheduled for Montreal and Toronto beginning the day after Christmas ... Lehigh Valley has participated in eight games that have gone beyond regulation this season, but just two on the road, and fell to 4-4 in such contests and 2-3 in games decided in the seven-minute extra session ... Whitney unleashed a game-high seven shots on goal ... Delisle and Brandon Manning posted a team-high four shots on goal each ... Albany finished 1-for-5 on the power play and the Phantoms failed in each of their three chances ... Lehigh Valley defenseman Oliver Lauridsen was hobbled for the remainder of the game after taking a shot off his right leg late in the first period.
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