Image c/o Frank Fimmano
Jason Akeson’s shorthanded goal will go down as the game winner but Anthony Stolarz’s 32 save shutout was the difference in the Phantoms 2-0 win over the Hershey Bears at PPL Center Friday night.
“He’s the reason we won the game. It was his game from start to end,” coach Terry Murray said.
If you were just checking out the score, a 0-0 period is hardly anything noteworthy, but for the 8,481 in attendance, they witness perhaps one of the sloppiest periods of the season for the Phantoms. Poor passing and untimely turnovers was the perfect recipe for Hershey domination in the first period, firing 16 shots on Stolarz and holding Lehigh Valley to just one shot on goal as they blocked several shots and forced countless others wide. The rookie netminder was the sole reason that the Phantoms were not down multiple goals.
“Stolie stood on his head,” Akeson said. “That’s what you need from a goalie, to make the easy saves and hard ones.”
“For them to have 16 shots and to go into the locker room 0-0, we were very fortunate. We knew we had to be better,” Stolarz said.
The second period started no better for the Phantoms as the Bears picked up right where they left off with relentless pressure. It looked like Hershey finally may break through as they went to a power play halfway through the period. Instead, it would be the Phantoms getting the goal as Brett Hextall found a leaking Akeson behind the Bears’ defense for a shorthanded breakaway to give the home team a 1-0 lead on just their third shot of the game.
“I saw an opportunity and tried to run with it,” Akeson said. “I went with a fake and saw the five hole open, so I tried to squeeze it in there and it worked.”
“It was a sigh of relief, we had two shots at that point.” Stolarz said. “[Swinging] the momentum was huge for us.”
As the third period began, one expected the Bears to come out strong as the trailing team coupled with the fact they had outshot Lehigh Valley 24-6 through two periods. But the Phantoms came out shot for shot with Hershey and dictated play for most of the frame. A last ditch effort by Hershey made for an nerve-racking ending but an empty net goal by Akeson in the game’s final seconds eased all anxieties as the team was able to hold on for the win. Oliver Lauridsen summed it up best.
“It wasn’t the prettiest two points you’ll see us get all year,” the defensemen said.
Stolarz has been spectacular his last two starts in goal–he’s saved 76 of his last 77 shots and was the sole reason this game was not a Hershey blowout after one period. He’s now won four straight starts and has seen his save percentage jump to a pristine .934 to coincide with a 2.33 GAA. The former London Knight was not hesitant to admit how his recent play has impacted him mentally.
“My confidence the last few games has skyrocketed. I’ve really gotten comfortable and adjusted to the game these last few weeks.” Stolarz said.
The Phantoms have now won two straight and with tonight’s win against the Bears, move to just one point behind their rivals for second place with a game in hand. They’ll look to go into the holiday break on a high note as they travel to Hartford tomorrow for a late afternoon tilt.
Phantoms goalie Rob Zepp officially got the call up from the Philadelphia Flyers after Steve Mason was injured earlier in the day at practice. Zepp has bounced around the minors and lower-level leagues for almost ten years and tomorrow night will mark his first time on an NHL roster. Murray was hopeful that Zepp would see action this weekend with the Flyers playing a back-to-back. Stolarz will get the start tomorrow and the Phantoms will likely recall goalie Martin Ouellette of the ECHL’s Reading Royals to replace Zepp’s spot on the roster .