Friday, January 16, 2015

Devils nip Phantoms thanks to third-period explosion

Allentown, PA -- The debut of special Orange and Black Friday home jerseys wasn't enough to carry the home team to a badly-needed win at PPL Center.

In the end, the Albany Devils surged to a positive result on the strength of three third-period goals, the last of which came from Stefan Matteau with 6:43 to play in regulation to give them a 3-2 victory over Lehigh Valley in a battle for eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

Scott Clemmensen ended up with an AHL season-high 32 saves, while Rod Pelley and Paul Thompson also lit the lamp in the final stanza for the visitors (18-14-7), who were coming off a 2-1 overtime road win at conference-leading Springfield and have won three of their last four.

Nick Cousins and Andrew Gordon scored for the hosts (18-13-5), who had three games in hand on their former geographic rivals but saw their season-high four-game win streak ended thanks in large part to providing Albany a whopping 10 power-play chances.

In a rare, but telling move, head coach Terry Murray declined to offer postgame comments. Even in the darkest days in the bowels of the Glens Falls Civic Center, the former NHL coach stood and faced the gauntlet. On this night, it was an obvious sign that whatever he was preaching from the bench did not get through.

Anthony Stolarz stopped all 19 shots he faced in a frantic second period, but was charged with three scores on 12 shots in the deciding final frame.

Lehigh Valley continues its stretch of six games in the next eight days by welcoming the Binghamton Senators to Allentown tomorrow night. Not that it matters to Gordon, or anyone else on the team, that they had three games in hand over their opponents.

"Games-in-hand are a romantic thought. If you don't win them, they're nothing. I always say you try not to look at the standings. You win your games and you'll be fine," Gordon said. "We have to win the next one, we've gotta rebound and focus in the now. We're not worried about who's playing who or how many points we're behind someone."

Gordon pulled the Phantoms back even with 8 1/2 minutes to play on a blast from the left-wing boards. He was powerless to keep his teammates from wearing out the path to the penalty box, and, with Austin Fyten serving a questionable hooking minor, the Devils took the lead again.

Matteau picked up the puck near the outer edge of the left circle and his slow, low shot slipped through the legs of an unscreened Stolarz for a 3-2 game with 6:43 on the clock.

Phantoms defenseman Robert Hagg ended a tough third period with a holding minor at 14:16 when he allowed Reid Boucher free rein up the left wing before restraining him from taking an uncontested shot. The hosts survived that disadvantage, but came close only once with Stolarz pulled for an extra skater in the final minute-plus.

"It's correctable," Gordon admitted about his team's descent into chaos. "People have to go home, look in the mirror and say 'what in the Hell was I thinking?' With four minutes left ... tackle a guy ... don't do that! We take a penalty slashing a stick out of a hand a hundred feet from the puck. Don't do that. These are simple things where we find ourselves not thinking. For a split second, it could cost you two minutes, cost us a goal."

The Phantoms and Devils played twice previously this season, and in each of those matchups -- perhaps due to the cavernous and empty environs of Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City -- the first period passed without much passion or action. The same can be said for tonight's opening 20 minutes, which was largely controlled by the hosts, who racked up 10-5 shot edge but few quality chances in front of a larger and friendlier crowd.

They failed to click on three power-play chances in the first and held the Devils off the board on two successive short-handed opportunities.

In a 4-on-4 situation created when Taylor Leier and Thompson went off for mutual roughing minors in a scrap in front of Stolarz, Cousins flew up the left wing thanks to a lead pass by Oliver Lauridsen, and uncorked a blistering drive from the circle which beat Clemmensen high and inside the far post at 6:29.

Jason Akeson had a prime chance to double the hosts' advantage with just under eight minutes to go in the second, but pulled his backhander just wide of the left post as he cut in from the right wing mere seconds into a Jay Rosehill slashing minor.

Stolarz answered the bell with just over six minutes before intermission, swallowing up an unexpected open chance in close from Chris McKelvie, and made a half-dozen other stops to get his team to the final break ahead by a single goal.

Lehigh Valley's string of luck on the penalty kill finally ran out on Albany's second chance of the third period. Pelley was allowed to remain in the low slot and finally was able to whack a loose puck in the crease between the pads of Stolarz at the 5:05 mark to tie the game. The goal was the first allowed by the Phantoms in their last 18 short-handed situations.

Clemmensen halted back-to-back chances in tight from Petr Straka and Brandon Alderson just after the seven-minute mark, and came up huge with Alderson staring at a half-open net on a backhander at the period's midway point.

Thompson rewarded that effort by going up the middle as both Hagg and Lauridsen simply watched him fly by and beat Stolarz on the advantage with 9:48 left in regulation.

Notes: Albany has beaten Lehigh Valley in all three meetings this year, with the season series slated to end in Allentown on Jan. 29 ... The Phantoms also saw their streak of four home wins snapped, picking up their first loss since a 3-2 shootout decision against Bridgeport on Dec. 6 and their first home defeat in regulation since a 3-2 result against Springfield on Nov. 26 ... The 10 power plays were the most allowed by Lehigh Valley this season, besting the nine given to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Dec. 7 ... Gordon re-established the team lead in goals with 11, as Cousins had previously tied him with his 10th of the season ... The Devils have claimed a 42-32 edge in third period goals this year.
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