For many of the Adirondack Phantoms, the chance to play a home game at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia was a new and exciting experience. However, there were two Phantoms that had been there before, Michael Leighton and Eric Wellwood. It was no surprise that those two shone brightest in the team’s 4-2 victory over the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Baby Penguins.
On paper, Friday’s game wasn’t much of a match-up at all. The Phantoms entered the game with just 28 points in 43 games played, which was worst in the AHL. On the opposite side of the puck, the Baby Penguins held the league’s best record by nine points, with 66.
However, the Phantoms channeled some energy from the crowd, as well as from their key contributors with NHL experience. The first came when Wellwood tied the game at one for the Phantoms with 12:39 left in the first period. Wellwood streaked down the ice and hammered home a Mike Testwuide rebound past Baby Penguins goalie John Curry.
But the young winger wasn’t finished there.
Early in the second period, the Phantoms took to the penalty kill when Michael Ryan was sent to the box for holding. For Wellwood, it was just another opportunity to shine. The youngster took the puck from the neutral zone and while gliding in on the right wing he fired a beautiful pass that found Greg Moore who deposited the puck behind Curry for the game’s second goal.
Although Wellwood has only played three NHL regular season games in his career thus far, he knows the experience has been invaluable to his success this season.
“I think [playing with the Flyers] helped a lot. I learned many things when I was up here for two weeks, not only the games but also the practices,” the 20-year old winger said. “I have been trying to emulate what they do up here down there.”
Despite Wellwood’s fantastic play in the first two periods, the Phantoms needed solid goaltending to overcome a 40-16 discrepancy in shots on goal. Luckily, the man that helped carry the Philadelphia Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals was there to help.
Leighton made save after save to keep the game tied until the Phantoms could muster the game-winning score with 1:30 remaining in the third period. And he wasn’t done there. During a frantic Baby Penguins attempt to tie the game, Leighton made an unbelievable save.
“I made the first save and it flipped up on the guy and he took a whack at it and I caught it between my pant and my glove,” Leighton said. “I was lying on my back and everyone was yelling, ‘it was in’ and they asked if it went in.”
But the Phantoms goalie knew better, and with a wide smile he reiterated what everyone in attendance had already known, “I said ‘no, it didn’t.’”
With 38 saves on 40 shots, Leighton proved in his return to Philadelphia that he still knows how to stop the puck. In tallying a goal and assist, Wellwood showed the organization that he has what it takes to be an NHL player sooner rather than later. More importantly, the Phantoms showed they were capable of beating the league’s best team despite being badly outplayed.
For a team that’s struggled like the Phantoms have this year, a few positives can’t be a bad thing.