|Courtesy of the Adirondack Phantoms|
The 194th and final home contest in the history of the latest Adirondack-based hockey team appeared to be going to the hosts, but Bridgeport scored the final three goals of the contest, including Johan Sundstrom's overtime winner with 1:37 remaining, to win 3-2 in the Phantoms' final home contest in front of a record 5,586 fans at the Glens Falls Civic Center on Friday.
Scooter Vaughan and Mike Halmo tallied in a span of less than 6 1/2 minutes in the third period as the Sound Tigers won six of eight in the season series. Kevin Poulin stopped 24 shots to snag the victory as Bridgeport snapped a 12-game winless streak and claimed a victory for the first time since March 16, at home, against Adirondack.
Tony Capobianco made 29 saves, while Brandon Alderson and Derek Whitmore lit the lamp for the Phantoms, whose three-game home win streak and a three-game win streak overall was snapped.
Memories of a 2-9-3 March had been wiped away with a respectable finish, now 5-2-1 in April as the club heads into its season-finale at Hershey on Saturday night, thanks to a fresh infusion of talent including the professional debut of Union College defenseman and Flyers draft pick Shayne Gostisbehere.
“It’s definitely faster than college and definitely stronger, too,” the reigning NCAA tournament MVP stated, while being supported by all of his former Dutchmen teammates. “But it was a fun game out there. We had fun and I learned from it and it was a great experience.”
It still wasn't quite enough to prevent Terry Murray's club from playing a season in microcosm in front of a friendly crowd at times more occupied with chanting to keep hockey in the region than engaged with what happened on the ice.
"The fans have given us the support you’d like to have and I think tonight the showing by them was tremendous — a sold-out game and cheering the whole game,” Phantoms head coach Terry Murray said. “I think we gave them a good game from an entertainment standpoint.”
Entertainment might have been enough to go on during some of the leaner nights over the past five years, but those who came out on a seasonably cool evening could have been treated to something a bit better.
Things looked promising early on.
Alderson picked up the game's first goal just 4:26 in, when he positioned himself at the far post and was in perfect position to flip home the rebound of a Whitmore shot that Poulin kicked out in the wrong direction.
Though Capobianco was rarely tested in the first period and only faced five shots, his teammates didn't make it easy on themselves, going down a man on three separate occasions.
Things were reversed in the second, as the Sound Tigers gave the hosts three chances with the man advantage. On the back half of the third one, Whitmore received a Nick Cousins dish in the slot and beat Poulin into a half-open net at the 12:32 mark.
Capobianco ensured that lead held up, making a sliding save on a quick Matt Mangene opportunity from the slot, then diving forward when confronted with Josh Holmstrom all alone in front -- two of the best from his 11 second-period stops.
Vaughan interrupted a Phantoms advantage at 7:20 of the third period, ruining Capobianco's shutout hopes with a redirection in front of a Holmstrom dish.
Bridgeport tied the contest with 6:16 remaining in regulation on a power play created on Cullen Eddy's boarding call. Halmo was on the doorstep to the right of the Adirondack crease and beat Capobianco cleanly.
On the winner, Sundstrom found a seam up the slot and didn't need much time to think before taking a Jesse Graham pass and snapping it home to a stunned and muted reaction from the hopeful crowd.
Now, there's just one more game left for players to prove their worth to the organization before the relocation to the Lehigh Valley. At least one fan favorite hopes he'll take his show on the road, represent the club in a new location and endear himself to a new set of supporters.
"Two years ago, I didn't know what to expect, coming in here as the bad guy. The fans here have treated me great," said Phantoms enforcer Zack FitzGerald. "I don't really know what's going to happen next year, I hope I was able to make an impression so that they'll keep me around. I really appreciated everything this organization did for me and I hope to be a part of it in the future."
Notes: Bridgeport won the season series by a 5-2-1 count ... The Phantoms ended the regular season with 13 players with recent Division I college experience ... Gostisbehere finished even with three shots on goal ... These two clubs entered play ranked first and second in the entire AHL in penalty minutes (ADK 1772, BPT 1765), and racked up an additional 104 PIM, with 58 of those going to Bridgeport ... Phantoms defenseman Oliver Lauridsen topped all individual players with 25 PIM thanks to a pair of misconducts and a fighting major ... The Phantoms completed their home schedule with a 16-18-4 record ... Sound Tigers defenseman Ryan Pulock picked up his first career point on Halmo's tally.