Lafferty, Top Line Keep Pens’ Playoff Hopes Alive
ALLENTOWN — Sam Lafferty somehow found a different way to score at the most crucial time for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Saturday night at PPL Center.
With the fate of the Penguins’ season potentially hanging in the balance, Lafferty completed a hat trick by batting a puck out of midair and past Lehigh Valley Phantoms goaltender Alex Lyon with 59 seconds left and the Penguins net empty. The game went to overtime, where Ryan Haggerty beat Lyon on a breakaway to lift Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to a stunning 5-4 win over its division rival and keep its playoff hopes alive another day.
“It was definitely exciting for the fans, not so much for the coaching staff,” Penguins head coach Clark Donatelli said jokingly. “I like the way our guys are resilient. They hung in there, they just found a way to win. I thought (Tristan) Jarry was great. He made some huge saves to keep us in the game.”
Jarry, making his 13th straight start, ended up with 30 saves. When asked if the 23-year-old would get the nod again in net today, Donatelli said he’ll see how the netminder is doing and added, “We’ll see.”
Providence had already beaten Binghamton earlier in the night when Byron Froese scored to put Lehigh Valley ahead 4-3 with 14 minutes remaining, meaning a regulation loss would have put the Penguins (31-25-7-3) in sixth place and nine points out of postseason contention.
But after Jarry dashed to the net with 1:30 to go, Joseph Blandisi threw a shot at Lyon that popped off the goaltender and to his right. Lafferty, in the exact right spot, knocked the puck by him before it hit the ice to set off a wild group hug along the boards.
Lafferty scored earlier in the game on both his backhand and forehand, as the Penguins’ top line of him, Haggerty and Sam Miletic combined for four goals and six assists.
“We’ve been together, this is our third game now, and I think every game we’ve played a pretty strong game together,” Lafferty said. “We’re just getting more and more comfortable knowing where we are on the ice, and I think we’re supporting the puck really well.”
In a game that had plenty of feistiness left over from Friday night, with one fight and a plethora of other scrums early on, the teams traded extended power-play chances over the first 40 minutes.
With the game tied at 1 in the first period after Lafferty and Phil Samuelsson traded goals 28 seconds part, consecutive minors by Carsen Twarynski, Cole Bardreau and Mike Vecchione put the Penguins up a man for more than five minutes. They almost failed to capitalize, but Blandisi ripped a one-timer from Lafferty past Alex Lyon at 17:16.
Lehigh Valley (32-27-4-3) wasted 1:27 of 5-on-3 time and another power play shortly after in the second, allowing Lafferty to double the Penguins’ lead in the slot at 9:18.
The Phantoms are known as a slow-starting team and entered the game with only 47 first-period goals. But, like they did Friday, the Phantoms punched back with goals from Greg Carey and Cole Bardreau and kept that momentum through most of the game.
But, when it counted most, the Penguins showed a do-or-die mentality that should give them an extra boost as they complete a three-in-three weekend.
“To come back and get this win, it shows the character of the room,” Donatelli said. “Jarry’s playing great, he’s giving us a chance to win every night, and our guys responded here with a great effort.”
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