Lehigh Valley Hurts Pens’ Playoff Hopes
WILKES-BARRE TWP. —Alex Lyon’s gamble in the second period didn’t pay off.
But the goaltender was a safe bet for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the final 20 minutes Friday.
Lyon made 10 saves in the final period and helped kill two key Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins power plays, and Nic Aube-Kubel broke a tie 28 seconds into the frame with his second goal to help the Phantoms post a 3-2 win at Mohegan Sun Arena.
With Providence winning Friday, the Penguins are seven points back of fourth place in the Atlantic Division with only 11 games left.
“We had some chances, but we just didn’t finish,” Penguins head coach Clark Donatelli said. “Defensively, D-zone coverage, we’ve got to take time and space away from those guys. I think we gave them too much time. But, we battled back. It was a good game, one-goal game.”
The Phantoms entered the game perfect on the penalty kill at Mohegan Sun Arena — and best in the league — and they shut the door on a pair of man-advantages in the first seven minutes of the third.
The Penguins had a new look on the power play, with Adam Johnson out and defenseman Juuso Riikola making his Penguins debut. But other than a couple booming slappers on their first chance, good chances were hard to come by against Lehigh Valley.
The Penguins (30-25-7-3) had other near misses, including a backhand drive by Joseph Blandisi with around 10 minutes left and an open chance in the high slot for Jimmy Hayes that Lyon shouldered high and away.
The Penguins took the lead 7:06 in when Ryan Haggerty sniped a shot from the faceoff circle past Lyon off a turnover.
Lehigh Valley (32-27-3-3) pushed back in the second with goals from Aube-Kubel and Chris Conner.
“We always know against those guys, it’s going to be a battle,” forward Sam Lafferty said. “We got off to a good start. Just need to make sure we keep playing the right way.”
Lyon helped give the Penguins new life when he came halfway up the Phantoms zone to halt Haggerty’s pursuit of a long outlet pass. However, Sam Miletic intercepted the clearing attempt at the blue line and set up Haggerty on the doorstep before Lyon could settle back in the crease.
Haggerty’s goals gave him a career-high 18.
With the teams even at two goals and 18 shots entering the third, Aube-Kubel put the pressure on the Penguins, sending the puck past the tangled up Byron Froese and Ethan Prow and through Tristan Jarry.
Jarry made his 12th straight start and had 29 saves. With the two teams tied at 70 points and taking part in a rematch tonight, he seems like an obvious choice to start again.
However, time is running out for the Penguins.
“That’s how we’re looking at it,” Lafferty said. “It’s definitely a playoff game. We need the two points.”
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