With their backs against the wall, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms faced a must-win Wednesday night at the Giant Center as they try to stay alive and force a game four on Saturday. They will have to do this without their top two goaltenders; Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon, as both are out for the season with lower body injuries. That means it will be Martin Ouellette getting the start who played much of this past regular season with the ECHL’s Reading Royals. On the contrary, the Hershey Bears look for the knockout punch and finish their first series sweep since 2010, despite being outplayed for much of the first two games.
After a shotless first 3 minutes, Hershey almost capitalized on the first shot of the game off the stick of Madison Bowey, but Ouellette was able to fight it off.
Just a minute later, with Hershey pressuring, Travis Boyd wrapped around the net, losing control of the puck. The puck dribbled out into the slot on to the stick of Bears defenseman Madison Bowey with a lot of net to shoot at, but Ouellette shut the door.
The teams struggled to get the puck through the neutral zone until the Phantoms grabbed a turnover by Tom Gilbert at the blue line which led to two quick shots , including a sharp angle shot from Danick Martel that was gloved by Copley.
At 11:55, the Phantoms’ Corban Knight broke into the Hershey end with Greg Carey skating down the slot. Knight landed a perfect saucer pass onto the tape of Carey’s stick, one-timing it towards the Hershey net but Copley slid to his right and swallowed up the puck, allowing no rebound, earning himself a huge round of applause from the Hershey crowd.
At 14:30, Bears rookie Hampus Gustafsson and Dustin Gazley came through the neutral zone on a 2-on-1, using Gazley as a decoy, Gustafsson let go a wrist shot that just missed the top left corner.
Hershey continued to pressure as Ryan Bourque picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone, skated down the boards and around the net before losing control. Phantoms defenseman Sam Morin picked up the loose puck but was immediately stripped by Garrett Mitchell. Mitchell attempted a quick wraparound which dribbled off his stick to Zach Sill, who was waiting in the slot. Sill brought the puck to his forehand and let go a snap shot that was blocked, sending the puck high into the air before Lehigh Valley recovered it.
Hershey continued to throw shots at the inexperienced goaltender. A point shot from defenseman Hubert Labrie caused another mad scramble in front of Ouellette who failed to cover multiple times, but was bailed out by his teammates.
With under a minute left, Lehigh Valley got their best chance of the period as a point shot rebounded off Copley to the waiting stick of Andy Miele. Miele took a quick shot but yet again, Copley was up to the task.
Shortly after, at the Bears got their best chance of the period. A Garrett Mitchell shot, bounced off the right pad of Ouellette towards Ryan Bourque who had almost half the net to shoot at. To prevent a sure goal, Phantoms’ Andy Miele took down Bourque, sending Hershey to their first powerplay.
Hershey started the second period with 1:35 of leftover powerplay time, but were not able to get any pressure. After killing the penalty, Lehigh Valley went to work, hemming Hershey’s forecheck caused problems for Hershey. Shots from Travis Sanheim and T.J. Brennan sailed high but Lehigh Valley was able to keep the puck in, beating Hershey to every puck.
Lehigh Valley continued to pressure as Mark Alt cycled below the net before coming around the net, turning, and shooting one high off of Copley. Seconds later, Chris Conner tried to take advantage of an out-of-place Copley, quickly skating around the back of the net and throwing the puck across the goal line, but it somehow did not find its way into the net.
Hershey came close to taking the lead after Djoos jumped on a rebound and took a sharp angle shot that sat right on top of Ouellette’s pad, inches away from a goal.
At 11:35, Phantoms defenseman Sam Morin was left out to dry, as he was left with the task of taking on three Bears as they broke into the zone, led by Stanislav Galiev. Galiev decided to take the shot himself, wristing the puck low-blocker side past Ouellette, giving the Bears the crucial first goal.
With just under five minutes to go, Bears winger Riley Barber brought the puck down below the Phantoms goal before dropping a pass back to Tyler Lewington who ripped a one-timer off the pad of Ouellette and wide.
With the period coming to an end, the Bears found themselves on yet another 3-on-1. Riley Barber led the charge, carrying the puck down to the Phantoms crease, drawing Ouellette out of net to poke check. Barber attempted to avoid the stick of Ouelette, and send the puck out into the slot but Sam Morin was able to clear the puck from harm.
Just 37 seconds into the third period, in what looked like an innocent center ice dump-in from Colin McDonald rung off the post and passed an unsuspecting Copley, tying the game at one.
Hershey looked to rebound as Liam O’Brien and Dustin Gazley took the puck up ice on a 2-on-1 but a great diving play from T.J. Brennan broke up the cross-crease pass attempt.
After allowing the weak goal from center ice, Copley regained his composure, making a tough blocker save off a shot from the slot to keep the game tied at one.
After making a save, Ouellette looked to freeze the puck, but it was poked into the net by Garrett Mitchell. As fans celebrated, the referees waved off the goal, claiming Ouellette had frozen the puck and the game remained tied at one.
Shortly after, Lehigh Valley came close to taking their first lead of the game as Mark Zengerle cut into the slot and rung a wrist shot past Copley and off the crossbar, into the safety netting.
With just over three minutes, the Phantoms’ Scott Laughton carried the puck into the Hershey zone on a 2-on-1 but Bears’ Tyler Lewington hustled back to strip Scott Laughton from behind. A minute later, Phantoms’ T.J. Brennan had a great chance on a slap shot from the slot, but sailed it high.
With regulation quickly coming to an end, Sam Morin retrieved a loose puck along the boards and threw the puck on net, which bounced off of Copley and just wide of the goal mouth.
With under 30 seconds left, Bears’ Dustin Gazley stole the puck in the neutral zone, skated into the high slot and wristed a shot off the blocker of Ouellette. The Bears controlled the puck for the rest of regulation, but couldn’t find the net before the horn sounded.
It only took a minute and 49 seconds of overtime before, Phantoms’ Chris Conner scored for the Phantoms on a breakaway set up by an Andy Miele blocked shot, cutting the Bears series lead to 2-1.
SERIES: 2-1 Hershey
FINAL: 2-1 (OT) Phantoms
SHOTS: Tied 30-30
- With both Phantoms goaltenders Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon out for the playoffs, Martin Ouellette was forced into the starting spot at the end of game two. The 25-year-old goaltender did not fair well as he allowed two goals on four shots, including the game-winner off the stick of Hershey’s Chris Bourque. However, during Ouellette’s limited time with the Phantoms during the regular season, Ouellette had a solid showing. In his four appearances, he posted a 3-0-0 record, allowing only three goals on 93 shots. On Wednesday night, Ouellete made 29 saves on 30 shots, further helping his chances of being on the Phantoms next year if Lyon or Stolarz were called up to the Flyers.
- For the Bears, the addition of goaltender Pheonix Copley has been huge. Copley shut out the Phantoms in game one, and after starting slow in game two, he shut the door in the later stages, allowing Hershey to come back from a 4-2 deficit. In game three, Copley was solid once again, making 28 saves on 30 shots. However, his solid game will be overshadowed by the goal he let in from center ice off the stick of Colin McDonald.
- Chris Conner continued his tremendous performance in this series, scoring the game-winning overtime goal in game three. The goal gives Conner a goal and three assists through three games against Hershey.
- Through three games, Hershey has yet to capitalize on the powerplay, going 0-7. While, Hershey only had one man-advantage on Wednesday night, Hershey must get their powerplay going if they want to make any noise in this years playoffs.
- Hershey’s Stanislav Galiev continued his dominant performance in this series, recording Hershey’s only goal of game three. Galiev’s goal gave him his fourth point of the series (2 goals, 2 assists). Galiev has really turned his game around after struggling through the last month of the season.
The Bears and Phantoms will meet for game four on Saturday night at the Giant Center in Hershey. The Bears will once again look to finish off the Phantoms; the Phantoms will look to stave off elimination and force a game five back in Allentown on Sunday.
It will most likely be Martin Ouellette making another start for Lehigh Valley in game four after a solid showing on Wednesday night.
The next scheduled Bears game for Good Night, Good Hockey will be April 29th against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
Dean Snock is a writer and the Hershey reporter for Good Night, Good Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @Dsnock97.