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Phantoms drop important game to No. 8 Portland in 5-4 decision

Portland earned two points Saturday in their 5-4 win over the Phantoms. An important two points that placed them in the eighth and final playoff spot with the regular season winding down. That eighth and final playoff spot is where the Phantoms want to be.

Alternate captain Andrew Gordon scores two in the Phantoms 5-4 loss to Portland, Saturday
Alternate captain Andrew Gordon scores two in the Phantoms 5-4 loss to Portland, Saturday
Pat Jacoby

ALLENTOWN— The Phantoms let an important two points slip through their fingers as inconsistent momentum doomed the young team in its 5-4 loss to Portland, Saturday.

The Phantoms were aware of the importance of Saturday's matchup, with less than 20 games left in the regular season, and nearly 75 percent of their remaining opponents ranked above them in the Eastern Conference. And while Lehigh Valley challenged now-eighth ranked Portland at times, the team was unable to keep its momentum going through 60 minutes of fast-paced hockey.

Alternate captain Andrew Gordon had two goals in the 5-4 loss, putting the Phantoms on the board after going down by two in the first period. Lehigh Valley was battling in front of the net, after multiple unsuccessful attempts to get pucks past Portland's goaltender, but Gordon didn't let up, giving the Phantoms the energy they needed to finish the first period strong. The Phantoms went down by two in three different occasions Saturday, but scored within one minute of each Portland goal.

"We've been playing decent in spurts," Gordon said. "Momentum is a tough thing in this game. We're young and we get too nervous sometimes in our own zone. We're out shooting these teams, we're out-chancing these teams, we're in these games. It's tough for me to sit here and say were happy with this position...because were not."

  • Brandon Manning's absence was apparent Saturday after the 24-year-old was called up just hours before puck-drop. The Portland Pirates speed challenged the Phantoms in the neutral zone throughout the game with a struggling defense being the catalyst for Portland's five-goal game.
  • Veteran goaltender Rob Zepp had another solid game, making quality saves as Portland hammered at the net, despite allowing five past him. The 33-year-old saved 27-of-31.
  • Portland's netminder Mike McKenna, a 31-year-old from St. Louis, MO also had a superb night between the pipes making athletic saves. Despite facing just 35 registered shots, the Phantoms kept feeding the veteran pucks, but not the kind of quality shots head coach Terry Murray looks for.

"We get quality looks but we're not getting enough to the net," Murray said. "When you get a team that's one of the better defending teams in the league [like Portland]... you've got to make sure you're getting pucks to the net, make them turn around and face their goaltender."

  • Twenty-four year old Adam Comrie was paired with Manning’s usual line-mate Mark Alt to start the game. The defenseman has had a rough season with the Phantoms since being called up from Reading in November, allowing detrimental turnovers in the offensive zone, leading to at least two game-winning goals for Phantoms opponents. Saturday, however, Comrie netted his third Phantoms goal this season off a slapshot from the point with just minutes remaining in the second period to give the declining Phantoms some much-needed momentum.
  • Scott Laughton returned to the lineup Saturday after battling a stomach bug on Friday. But he committed two penalties in the first period and spent more time in the box than on the ice during the first frame. Laughton would later score the Phantoms final goal with 9.5 seconds left in regulation.
  • With Laughton's late goal in the third period, Portland's game-winning goal was credited to an empty netter off of a faceoff in the Phantoms offensive zone.
  • Lehigh Valley killed off 21 of 25 penalties in their last seven games and 18 consecutive through tonight. The Phantoms unfortunately ended that streak Saturday as they allowed Portland to nab a power play goal in the second period.
  • Despite the loss, the Phantoms still sit in 12th place in the Eastern Conference, and are still nine points behind the eighth and final playoff spot. Lehigh Valley also holds at least one game in-hand over nearly everyone in front of them in the conference, and four games in-hand over St. Johns, who currently sits in 10th place.
  • Brandon Manning was recalled to the Flyers just two hours before puck drop, Saturday. There has been no official word on who Manning will be replacing on the roster, but his call-up could be in result of Michael Del Zotto’s potential lower body injury after leaving the Flyers game early Saturday after blocking a shot -- later returning to the ice. Nicklas Grossmann’s nagging upper body injury could also be a factor in the call up.
  • Forward Petr Straka blocked a shot Friday against Bridgeport, sustaining an upper body injury. The 22-year-old played early in the first period, Saturday, but left sometime through the first frame and would not return.