Friday evening, the playoff race tensed up for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins with a matchup against the Adirondack Phantoms. With the Hershey Bears idle throughout the evening, the Pens were given the opportunity to re-take a five point lead in the Eastern Conference standings over the Bears. Behind a spectacular performance by former Philadelphia Flyers’ goaltender, Michael Leighton, the Phantoms escaped the Mohegan Sun Arena with a narrow 1-0 win over the Pens.
The Penguins entered play with a magic number of eight, as they once again close in on a playoff spot in pursuit of their first Calder Cup Championship. While playoffs are not a concern for the flightless birds, whether they will have home ice or not is an eye-brow raiser among spectators. Wilkes-Barre following the game holds the fourth and final home ice spot in the conference with Hershey on their bumper.
Into the middle minutes of the first period, Penguins’ forward Nick Peterson was crashing Leighton’s crease looking to bang in the net any loose puck found in the blue paint. Seconds later after Peterson couldn’t get a good grip on a juicy rebound bouncing in front of the cage, Adirondack skated down ice and capitalized on their fourth shot of the contest. Jason Akeson at the 8:59 mark slid the puck into a vacated net after Scott Munroe was fooled by a centering pass from Tye McGinn. Akeson’s tally later proved to be the differential.
Despite a combined 17 additional shots in the stanza, Akeson’s goal was the lone tally. Shots after 20 minutes were 10-8 in favor of the Pens with both goaltenders putting forth stellar performances. Wilkes-Barre possessed 77 seconds of carry over power-play time into the middle frame. Their first man-advantage of the contest did not come until the 19:18 mark, when Harry Zolnierczyk was sent to the sin-bin for a defensive zone holding infraction.
Throughout the first period the Penguins’ strategy remained consistent in trying to crash the net and earn a scoring chance in the slot against Leighton. In their defensive end, the W-B Pens did a successful job forcing the Phantoms to the outside half-boards when back-checking against an offensive zone rush.
The Penguins failed to capitalize on their power-play seconds and were again held in check overall in the second period. Wilkes-Barre dominated the majority of play with eight more shots on Leighton, but the former Flyers’ netminder stood tall stopping everything in sight. Shots after two periods were 18-15 W-B, and the score remained 1-0.
Third period, the Black, White and Gold began to give up ground defensively and relied on Scott Munroe excessively to keep the game at a one goal deficit. The Pens’ defense softened in the neutral zone throughout the final stanza, as they give up a countless number of 2-on-1 rushes to the Adirondack. Luckily for the W-B, Munroe stood his ground, as he finished the game stopping 20 of 21 shots.
The offense on either side would not hit pay-dirt for the rest of the game against either goaltender, as the Phantoms cruised to a stunning 1-0 win over the Penguins. Michael Leighton received a well-deserved number two star, as he put forth his best performance of the season. Jason Akeson’s tally at 8:59 was enough to earn him first-star honors, with Flyers’ GM Paul Holmgren looked on from the stands in satisfaction.
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins return to the ice with a tough game in hand the next night against the St.John’s IceCaps. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. at the Mohegan Sun Arena.