ALLENTOWN— It seems to be the same story every game. Sold-out crowd. Teams scoring late, and an overtime decision.
Tonight the Phantoms gave their largest crowd this season something to cheer about, winning 2-1 in a shootout over division leader and intra-state rival.
Six (!) of their 12 home games this season have been decided in overtime. The Phantoms are 3-3 in extra time at home (4-3 in OT overall), including 2-0-0-1 in shootout appearances.
After leading by one for nearly the entire game (literally 54 minutes) the Phantoms (11-10-2-1) were forced to go into overtime after the Penguins (15-9-1-2) sent in a late goal in the third period. After an exciting seven-minute overtime period (they’re all exciting with the AHL format) the Phantoms were on their way to their third shootout of the season, and first shootout with Anthony Stolarz in goal.
Stolarz started in net for the Phantoms opposed another young goaltender Matt Murray. Both 20 years old, the two goaltenders have been improving throughout the season, and have begun to split time with their more experienced No. 1 goalies.
Stolarz proved his worth in a spectacular performance in front of a standing-room only crowd, blocking 45 shots, and presented constant composure in a stressful overtime period against the best team in the East Division.
The 6-6, 220-pound goaltender has a wicked poke-check, which he utilized in the shootout against some of the best shooters in the league. He sent Conor Sheary, a rookie with 10 points, and Jayson Megna, a center with 13 points, back to the bench after stripping the puck nearly three feet away from the crease.
"It’s something I like to have in my arsenal, and for me it’s something I don’t get to do much, but with my long arms in stick I like to get it out there and hopefully it finds my stick. It’s worth a shot, it’s going to work sometimes, and others it’s going to fail."
After the allotted three rounds of shooting was not enough to decide the game, a fourth skater lined up for each side. Cousins was the last to shoot after Stolarz stripped the puck from Menga. With a little flourish, Cousins skated towards Murray like he knew the puck was going in, faked left and dragged the puck across Murray's pad the goaltender slid out of the crease, and flicked the puck into the open net.
"I expected that," Petr Straka said after Cousins fake-out. "I've known him for a while and he's done it a couple of times last year. I knew he was going for the win."
- Petr Straka started the night early with a goal just over a minute into play. Brett Hextall sent a shot, blocked by Murray’s left pad and rebounded right to the near faceoff circle straight to Straka, who sent it into a half-empty net as Murray tried to recover his footing.
- After Straka’s goal, the Phantoms and Penguins battled for 54 minutes without a goal.
- With just two minutes remaining in regulation the Penguins got scrappy, and with a lot going on in front of the net, Jean-Sebastien Dea poked the puck behind Stolarz to tie the game.
- Head coach Terry Murray joked during post game that he was "flipping a coin" on the bench to decide which players to put in the shootout. Last shootout against Bridgeport the Phantoms lost after veterans Blair Jones and Andrew Gordon, Murray's go-to shooters, were unable to score. Murray wanted to add some young talent into the shootout lineup.
- Austin Fyten left the game 12 minutes into the second period after taking a high stick to the face, knocking out a few teeth in the process. He returned in the third period. His had a crucial block off a slapshot in front of an open net.
- Nick Cousins had a great opportunity in the second period after a laser pass from Jason Akeson met his stick from across the top of the key. Positioned near the goal line Cousins sent a shot to the net, but it somehow went directly behind the goaltender and across the back of the crease. Cousins would later get the goal he was looking for with the game-winning shootout goal.
- Drawing its largest crowd so far this season, the PPL Center welcomed 8,687 fans for the Phantoms "Go Birds" Tailgate, Saturday in preparation for the highly anticipated Eagles/Cowboys rematch in Philadelphia, Sunday. Eagles cheerleaders, NFL greats including Jeremiah Trotter and Brian Baldinger were in attendance, and players sported Eagles green jerseys during the game, which were auctioned off after the final buzzer with all proceeds benefitting Phantoms Charities.
- Saturday was the fifth standing-room only sellout in the team’s 11 home games so far this season, with the other seven home games selling over 8,000 tickets.
- Phantoms alumnus Scott Laughton had his first NHL goal just a few hours before his former team took on the Penguins. Laughton sniped a shot off the post for the fourth goal of the Flyers' 5-1 domination over the Carolina Hurricanes. The center also assisted Wayne Simmonds’ goal, completing his first multi-point NHL game.