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Phantoms Sweep Amerks

Thursday, April 11, 2002

By Mike Williams
SJSports Special Correspondent

Lasting reputations are made in the playoffs. Pavel Brendl has been tagged with several labels this season - lazy, uninspired and indifferent being the most common charges against the talented 20-year-old winger. Reputations like those are tough to shed.

So far, however, Brendl is working to change that reputation. His two goals on Thursday night led the Phantoms to a 3-2 victory over the Rochester Americans that contained its share of nail biting moments.

The win gave the Phantoms a 2-0 sweep over the Americans. It was the second consecutive season that the Phantoms have knocked Rochester out of the playoffs at the First Union Spectrum.

Neil Little was solid as usual and provided 37 saves in the victory.

The Phantoms will face the Syracuse Crunch in the upcoming quarterfinal series, beginning Saturday in Syracuse. Game Two will be in Syracuse on Wednesday. The Phantoms have not yet announced dates for Games 3 and 4 in Philadelphia, though Sunday, April 21, is rumored to be the date for Game 3 at the First Union Center.

Rochester's Jeremy Adduono was scratched with an undisclosed injury. But the Amerks benefited from Buffalo's elimination from the NHL playoff race on Tuesday night, gaining goaltender Mika Noronen and winger Ales Kotalik from the Sabres.

Play was tentative early on, the clubs settling for a conservative approach. Rochester created most of the offense early in the period, out shooting the Phantoms 10-4.

But the Phantoms struck midway through the first period. Pavel Brendl took a pass to the slot from Mark Greig and lifted it over the sprawling Noronen, giving the Phantoms a 1-0 lead. "The playoffs are different for me. They're a lot more fun. I love the games when there is big pressure, and I know I can score the goal," Brendl said.

Brendl continued his run eight minutes into the second period. Mike Watt took advantage of a giveaway deep in the Rochester zone eight minutes into the second. He fed Brendl streaking down the slot, who ripped a bullet over Noronen's shoulder to stake the Phantoms to a 2-0 lead. Brendl now has three goals in two playoff contests. "Pavel played great. He certainly showed up in the last two games," head coach John Stevens said.

Dan Peters' minor in the middle of the second period nearly allowed the Amerks back into the game. Christian Matte's shot from the left circle beat Little but just nicked the crossbar to keep Rochester scoreless.

Little showed his best work of the night with three minutes to go in the third. With a delayed penalty on Philadelphia in progress, Chris Taylor picked up a loose puck at the crease and shoved it toward the net. But Little managed to his glove on the puck while prone on the ice to further frustrate Rochester.

Rochester's offense continued to generate opportunities around the Philadelphia net. The usually anemic Amerks had 29 shots by the end of two periods.

However, the Phantoms all but sealed the contest when Mike Lephart and Mark Freer broke in on an odd-man rush early in the third period. Lephart slipped the puck past a sliding Rochester defender to Freer, who put the puck past Noronen to make it a 3-0 game.

Down three goals, the Amerks struggled to maintain any degree of pressure on Little. The Philadelphia defense resorted to a one-man fore-check and stifled the Amerks in the neutral zone. Minus Adduono, the Amerks simply lacked the sort of firepower needed to penetrate the zone.

Rochester finally did manage to get on the board at 13:39 as Amerks' tough guy Ryan Shmyr whistled a shot from the blueline through traffic in front.

Shmyr's tally seemed to galvanize the Amerks, who proceeded to storm the Philadelphia zone. Shmyr then doubled his season total with four minutes left when he stuffed his second goal of the game past Little to bring the Amerks to within one goal.

Rochester head coach Randy Cunneyworth yanked Noronen with a little more than a minute remaining for an extra skater.

The visitors nearly completed their comeback. Mike Hurlbut had the puck in the slot with Little down. But the veteran defenseman fumbled the puck and was only able to manage a shot that hit Little directly the pads with 1:01 left on the clock.

Philadelphia clamped down on the Rochester attack in the final minutes to capture the victory. Brendl's teammates have noticed the renewed approach that he is taking to the playoffs.

"Pavel's always had a scoring touch. I think he just realizes he needs to get the puck off quicker," Freer said.

Photos by Pedro Cancel

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