After an overnight bus-ride from Syracuse to Bridgeport, a road-weary Adirondack Phantoms team pushed their way through the fatigue to snag their third straight victory in a 3-2 decision at the Sound Tigers Saturday night. It was the last game before the holiday break for the Phantoms who now get a few days away from the ice to spend with family and friends.
Sean Couturier was vital on all three Adirondack scores with one goal and two assists on his way to #1 Star of the Game honors. Matt Ford scored his first of the season and Eric Wellwood added his third of the year and second of the week.
Adirondack held a relatively comfortable 3-0 lead with less than seven minutes remaining when Bridgeport would finally get one past Scott Munroe to break the shutout. The Sound Tigers would score another just 27 seconds later and suddenly the Phantoms' were not so comfortable anymore. But Adirondack was able to hang on to get their third consecutive one-goal victory in the last four days.
The Phantoms were at a bit of a disadvantage in the game not just from the lengthy travel but also because they were facing a much fresher Bridgeport team who had not played a game since Wednesday.
"It was a demanding game for us after getting in at 5:00 in the morning," head coach Terry Murray said. "Those trips always take a bit of a toll on you but the guys responded emotionally. I thought there was a good focus at the start of the game. You get the lead and you know at the end of the day you got a win. We need the points. We need to keep climbing up the ladder."
Sean Couturier confirmed that the team is aware of the importance of the points. "We saw last week the standings," Couturier said. "We knew that if we want to make the playoffs we've got to make a push from now on. We've been playing some pretty desperate hockey lately and we've put a couple wins on the board and that will put us right back in the race for the playoffs."
It was an emotional night at Webster Bank Arena as the Sound Tigers' organization honored the victims of the Newtown tragedies of December 14. Bridgeport is only 19 miles from Newtown. A pregame ceremony and moment of silence later made way for a game in which the Sound Tigers players wore the names of the victims on the back of their jerseys instead of their own in a classy way to pay tribute.
In the game, the Phantoms mustered only 18 shots on goal in the game, a season low. But Adirondack made the most of their chances while Munroe turned aside 34 of the 36 shots he faced including a couple of breakaway stops to secure the win against his former team. Munroe patrolled the pipes for the Sound Tigers three seasons ago in 2009-10.
Adirondack only had three of the combined nine shots on goal in the first period and it was perhaps the lowest percentage shot of the entire night that would find its way through for the first goal of the game. Sean Couturier rushed up ice almost on a breakaway but diving defenseman Brandon DeFazio poked the puck off his stick and into the corner. Couturier quickly retrieved it and from a bit behind the goal-line in the corner fired it at the net, deflecting it off the stick of defenseman Aaron Ness and into the goal for a lucky bouncer to give Adirondack a 1-0 lead on his eighth goal of the season.
"It's not an unusual play. You're going to see those kind of decisions made all of the time and you're just hoping something good happens," Murray said. "Whether the puck goes in the net or somebody is driving through and there's something loose in front of the crease. It's always the right decision to make a play to go to the net and this time it happened to find a way in."
Couturier fired a slapper from the right-point in the second period directing his blast into the slot for Matthew Ford who was able to change direction of the blast with his chop to bounce it past Anders Nilsson for a 2-0 lead. It was Ford's first goal of the season after scoring 19 goals with the Phantoms last season and 29 total.
For a talented scorer like Ford, it's been longer than expected to get into the scoring column.
"It's nice to see him break the ice. I hope now that he can break through and get on a roll," Murray said. "I'd like to see him over the next dozen games or so score more. It would be a good thing for him. It woudl be a good thing for the team. He needed that one that's going to break the ice and hopefully now he can kick the door open."
The Phantoms added another in the first minute of the third period when Couturier's wrap-around try would rebound out to a wide-open Eric Wellwood on the back-door for the easy one-timer to make it 3-0.
Couturier's assists setting up Wellwood and Ford made it a three-goal night for his line-combo.
"We're finding good chemistry with each other," Couturier said. "We're finding each other well out there and things are going our way and hopefully things keep going well."
The Phantoms had three straight power plays in the third period to try to deliver the knockout punch but Bridgeport killed all of them off and kept on charging in their efforts to get back into the game. Scott Munroe had already denied a couple of breakaway tries and made a bunch of other fantastic saves.
Goals with less than seven minutes left were scored 27 seconds apart by Jack Combs and Johan Sundstrom to make it 3-2 game. And the Sound Tigers just missed on a couple more opportunities to tie it. But eventually the Phantoms prevailed to equal their longest win streak of the season at three in a row.
It was the second game in a row in which Adirondack let a 3-0 lead evaporate to almost cost them. Friday night at Syracuse the Phantoms were in front 3-0 and then battled back to win in a shootout 4-3.
"We're getting good starts but maybe a little let-down once in awhile," Couturier said. "We've got to make sure we play 60 minutes. We've got to learn from those mistakes and learn how to play with the lead."
The Phantoms players head for home for a couple of days for the AHL Holiday Break. Adirondack returns to action on Friday night against the Providence Bruins and then will play another home game on Monday, December 31 at 3:00 against Bridgeport in the traditional New Years' Eve home game. The Phantoms will be wearing Tuxedo Jerseys presented by Scoville Jewlers with a portion of the proceeds to benefit the WAIT House of Glans Falls (Welcome Adolescents in Transition).
Adirondack Phantoms 3 at Bridgeport Sound Tigers 2
Saturday, December 22, 2012 - Webster Bank Arena
Adirondack 1 1 1 - 3
Bridgeport 0 0 2 - 2
1st Period-1, Adirondack, Couturier 8 14:10. Penalties-Manning Adk (fighting), 0:51; McIver Bri (fighting), 0:51; FitzGerald Adk (fighting), 2:07; Gallant Bri (fighting), 2:07; Ullstrom Bri (slashing), 4:27; Rinaldo Adk (interference), 12:08.
2nd Period-2, Adirondack, Ford 1 (Couturier), 7:49. Penalties-Lauridsen Adk (slashing), 8:43; FitzGerald Adk (fighting, misconduct - continuing altercation), 11:37; Gallant Bri (fighting), 11:37; Persson Bri (interference), 13:27; McGinn Adk (hooking), 14:37; Zolnierczyk Adk (roughing), 20:00; Donovan Bri (roughing), 20:00.
3rd Period-3, Adirondack, Wellwood 3 (Couturier, Dimmen), 0:38. 4, Bridgeport, Combs 1 (Costello, Landry), 13:39. 5, Bridgeport, Sundstrom 8 (Ullstrom, Persson), 14:06. Penalties-Ullstrom Bri (boarding), 5:54; Cizikas Bri (slashing), 7:54; Hill Bri (elbowing), 10:41; Syvret Adk (closing hand on puck), 19:49.
Shots on Goal-Adirondack 3-7-8-18. Bridgeport 6-15-15-36.
Power Play Opportunities-Adirondack 0 / 5; Bridgeport 0 / 4.
Goalies-Adirondack, Munroe 9-7-0 (36 shots-34 saves). Bridgeport, Nilsson 6-7-0 (18 shots-15 saves).
Referees-Tim Mayer (19).
Linesmen-Jim Briggs (83), Derek Wahl (46).