ALLENTOWN— The Phantoms (33-32-7-1) are playing spoiler late in the season, as they take down the Hershey (44-22-5-3) Bears 4-1 Tuesday, potentially ruining the Bears' chances of locking in the second seed in the Eastern Conference.
The win didn’t come easy however, as the Phantoms, who usually rely heavily on defense and goaltending, lost two of their best defensemen during the game -- Steven Delisle and Brandon Manning -- dropping the team down to just four available d-men to take on one of the best teams in the league.
Delisle left the first period after taking a hit from his own teammate in the neutral zone. The 6-6 d-man got tangled with Liam O’Brien in the neutral zone, who was the target for Zack Stortini’s check, who unintentionally hit Delisle up high in the process. Delisle spent some time face-down on the ice before staking to the Phantoms bench and eventually leaving the game. Head coach Terry Murray said his exit was just precautionary as Delisle was "wobbly" after the hit.
Manning left during the second period due to an apparent lower back spasm. Murray said the all-star defenseman felt tight during the first period, and eventually had to leave the game. Manning was playing in his first game back since returning to the Phantoms from his seven-game stint in Philadelphia.
The Phantoms ran with the remaining four defenseman, Mark Alt, Robert Hagg, Oliver Lauridsen and Jesper Petterson for nearly half the game. Murray said the team responded to the challenge well as the forwards also stepped up to help the worn-out defensemen.
Goaltender Rob Zepp also bailed the team out of many tough situations early, and faced 40 shots from one of the best offensive teams in the league. Zepp has not faced that many shots with the Phantoms since Feb. 4, where he faced 44 from Worcester. With three games remaining in the regular season, Zepp has a 0.919 save percentage and 1283 saves this season.
Here's a recap of the scoring:
- HER 1st: Jim O’Brien got the first and only piece of Zepp, sending a top-shelf shot over Zepp’s right shoulder from the slot early in the first period.
- LV 2nd: Scott Laughton evened the score just 51 seconds into the second period thanks to a precisely executed screen by Taylor Leier from the slot.
- LV 3rd: Kevin Goumas patiently circled around the net before sending a pass to Petr Straka through the crease who poked it past Groubauer for his 14th goal of the season, and just his third since the All-Star break.
- LV 3rd: Scott Laughton made the steal in the offensive zone, and passed to Taylor Leier who dumped it to Akeson in the slot. Akeson makes a monster slapshot past Grubauer for the insurance goal with less than half of the final period remaining.
- LV 3rd: And finally, Danick Martel scored his first AHL goal with 55 seconds remaining in regulation on an empty net. The center, who was playing in just his second AHL game was tripped up just past the blue line after nabbing the puck on a partial breakaway; as he was sliding on his belly, he released the puck down to the crease and it just snuck in the net on the far left side.
- This loss wasted Hershey's only game in-hand over Wilkes-Barre, who is just three points behind the Bears in the Eastern Conference. With the season winding down, the Bears must win the Eastern Conference to secure a top-seed in the playoffs. Without two points Tuesday night, that feat just got harder.
- Nick Cousins returned to the lineup Tuesday after missing 12 Phantoms game due to his end-of-season stint with the Flyers. Cousins was paired with newbie Martel and his usual linemate, Andrew Gordon. The trio had great looks, despite Martel's inexperience in the league. Martel's speed, paired with Gordon and Cousin's instincts was a fantastic line to watch.
- After suffering from a concussion in late 2013, Matt Konan finally made his way back onto a professional roster Tuesday. The d-man was a scratch, but his name was at least listed. Konan has been skating with the Phantoms since Feb. but was not officially cleared until late last week. He is expected play on the road with the Phantoms this weekend.