Special to PhiladelphiaFlyers.com
There was no scoring in the second period of Saturday’s game between the Phantoms and the Hershey Bears at the Wells Fargo Center. In fact, there were few scoring chances, and only 14 combined shots.
But, for those very reasons, it was the most important part of the game in the Phantoms’ eventual 4-1 victory.
For just about eight of the first nine minutes of the second, the Phantoms played a man down, and for a brief time, two men down. The Bears started off the period with 1:28 of carry-over power play time from Bruno Gervais’ slashing minor near the end of the first. Within a minute after they had killed that penalty, Nick Cousins was sent to the box for holding, and with 15 seconds left in his penalty Kris Newbury was whistled for a double minor for tripping and unsportsmanlike conduct.
But the Phantoms were able to effectively kill all four penalties, preserving their 2-1 lead through the most trying stretch of the game.
“We put ourselves in a very difficult situation in a game like this, to take a double minor,” said Phantoms head coach Terry Murray. “The penalty killing really stepped up. We had some difficulties in the last three or four games with it, but [today] it was very, very good.”
It was so good that the Phantoms allowed just one shot during all four penalties combined, and even generated some short-handed chances.
“For four minutes of five on four that started off five on three, that’s fantastic,” said Phantoms goaltender Cal Heeter. “Everyone was doing a great job clearing pucks out and covering their positions. When we play like that, we are a really tough team to play against.”
“We got through that with strong play,” Murray added. “We had a lot of momentum built off of that. We brought it into the third period and scored some very timely goals.”
The first timely goal came just about five minutes into the third period on the power play. Hershey’s Nicholas Deschamps was sent to the box for tripping, and the Phantoms responded just 17 seconds into the man advantage.
Newbury ripped a shot from the point that hit Ty McGinn, who corralled the puck and spun a quick shot on net. The rebound popped off the pads of Phillip Grubauer (who replaced David Leggio after he allowed two goals on the first six shots) and right to Ben Holmstren, who jammed in the loose change to give the Phantoms a 3-1 lead and some breathing room.
“When our power play is good it’s because we do a good job in front of the net,” said Holmstrom. “It gives more room for the guys to work it around the perimeter. I just got a whack at it, and that’s where you have to score goals.”
They were able to tack on one more late in the game when Jason Akeson walked out from behind the Bears’ net, spun and fired a quick wrist shot to the far side for his 16th goal of the season, giving the Flyers a 4-1 lead. The goal was Akeson’s 49th as an Adirondack Phantom, which surpasses Denis Hamel’s previous record of 48.
The Akeson, McGinn and Newbury line exploded in this game, combining for six points (two goals and four assists). McGinn paced the way with three points himself. Midway through the first period he scored after deflecting a pass from Newbury in front of the net, with Akeson taking the secondary assist. McGinn later had the primary assists on both Holmstron’s and Akeson’s goals. Newbury finished with two helpers as well.
“Newbury is a great player,” McGinn said. “All you have to do is get open and he finds you. He is a very skilled player, [and] he helps you out a lot too because he is always talking on the ice, letting you know where he is. He is a very easy player to play with.”
“There is a chemistry that’s starting to come back the way it was coming out of the training camp,” Murray said. “Early in the season there was a couple call ups—McGinn was up, Newbury was up, and it kind of got lost in the shuffle. It’s starting to come back and they can play very well in the offensive zone, get some attacks and get some scoring chances.”
The other Flyers goal was their first of the game, just two minutes in, when Tyler Brown scored his first of the season to give the Phantoms an early 1-0 lead.
Not to be lost was the play of Heeter, who stopped 28 of the 29 shots he faced, including several odd man rushes. The lone goal he allowed was a bit flukey, as it drifted off the stick of Ryan Potulny in the slot and went through the legs of an unsuspecting Marc-Andre Bourdon, before being picked up on the other side and fired past Heeter on the backhand by Matt Watkins. Other than that, he was perfect.
“He did an unbelievable job, he has been really solid for us all year,” Holmstrom said. “There are times when he keeps us in the game when we probably don’t deserve to be, and that’s what you need out of your goalie. He has been huge.”
The win improves the Phantoms to 22-20-0-2, as they remain in third place in the Northeast Division. They have now beaten the Bears three times in four games this season, with two more to play, including the last game of the season on April 19.
The Phantoms will resume play on Tuesday, when they travel to Hartford to take on the Wolf Pack. They will be returning to Philadelphia for one more game at the Wells Fargo Center February 22, when they play host to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.