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Phantoms Hammer Pens, 5-1

Friday, January 3, 2003

By Patrick Williams
SJSports Special Correspondent

PHILADELPHIA - Bright spots were lacking for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins after last night's 5-1 Phantoms rout at the First Union Spectrum. About the only thing that Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (15-16-2-3, 35 points) can take solace in is the fact that the American Hockey League schedule has only three more meetings remaining with the Phantoms this season. The Philadelphia (14-16-1-2, 33 points) club that split the series' first six matchups with the Penguins entering last night's game has undergone its latest makeover, one that suddenly makes the last-place Phantoms a dangerous opponent.

National Hockey League veteran Joe Sacco inked an AHL contract with Philadelphia this week, as the Phantoms attempted to breathe life into an attack that has struggled all season. Philadelphia's offense was ranked 25th in the league (2.41 goals per game) entering last night's game. That attack had been asleep in its past two games, having been been shutout in both contests.

That offense woke up last night. Teamed with perennial snipers Mark Greig and Peter White, Sacco welcomed himself back into professional hockey with a pair of goals and an assist. Sacco had not played this season after the Washington Capitals did not resign him last summer. White (1 goal, 2 assists) and Greig (1 goal, 3 assists) contributed as well to the Philadelphia onslaught.

Phantoms netminder Antero Niittymaki stopped 38 of 39 Penguin shots in picking up the win, including 19 saves in the final period. Toby Petersen provided the lone Wilkes-Barre/Scranton goal. The Penguins' power play sputtered last night, going 1-for-10. The Phantoms, meanwhile, were 2-for-6.

"The power play was the difference," Penguins head coach Glenn Patrick said. "Theirs was clicking, and ours wasn't."

The Sacco-White-Greig trio have a combined 1,035 games of NHL experience. Sacco carried a resume into the game that includes 704 National Hockey League games. The 33-year-old winger's last stint in the AHL was in 1992-93 with St. John's. He was scoreless in 65 appearances last season with Washington.

"I feel good, it's been a long time, it felt good to get out there and compete," Sacco said. "White is a good playmaker, and Greig and I used that tonight. The line worked out well."

The Penguins attempted to contain the line by countering with the pairing of Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi. Scuderi was minus three on the night.

"Our best defense didn't play their best," said Patrick, who termed the Phantoms line the "best" line that his club has faced this season.

Philadelphia pressured early after an intereference call against Brooks Orpik at 1:04. Tallas stopped Sacco and Greig from in close on the Phantoms' first two shots of the contest.

The Phantoms did score on their third shot of the game, however. Greig sent a shot from the left circle dot that Sacco managed to tip past Tallas at 3:19. That lead grew by one shortly thereafter. Referee Craig Spada awarded the Phantoms a penalty shot at 7:02. With Jason MacDonald already off for hooking, Eric Meloche swatted away a rebound in the Penguins' crease with his glove.

Phantoms head coach John Stevens selected Greig to take the penalty shot, and the move paid off for the hosts. Luring Tallas out of the crease, Greig deked to his right and slipped the puck past Tallas for a 2-0 Philadelphia lead.

Shane Endicott had a chance to cut the Phantoms' lead in half 10 minutes into the first. Endicott took a pass while stationed in front of the Philadelphia net. Shooting through a screen, the center sent a shot over the crossbar, keeping the Philadelphia advantage intact.

Later in the period, Alexander Daigle stripped Brad Tiley of the puck at the Philadelphia blue line in the first period and took off toward the Philadelphia net with Tomas Surovy on his right. Daigle fed a pass to Surovy, who had Niittymaki down. But Surovy fired a shot into the goaltender's lap that was stopped.

The Philadelphia power play continued to click after Orpik was sent off for an elbow at 15:46. Sacco threaded a pass from the left corner to White. Breaking toward the net, White hesitated and then snapped his 14th goal of the season under the crossbar for a 3-0 Phantoms advantage by the 16:27 mark.

"Joe is real easy to work with," White said. "He's a smart player, and we were clicking tonight. It helped to get an early goal. We needed a big game to keep confidence. The more we get the power play going, the better we are."

A 13-3 shots advantage in the middle stanza failed to erase the Phantoms' three-goal advantage, as the clubs traded goals.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton pulled back into the game 52 seconds into the second. Petersen took a pass from Daigle and put a shot over Niittymaki's right shoulder for a 3-1 game. The marker was Petersen's ninth of the season.

Philadelphia responded 10 minutes later, however, and restored its three-goal lead. Sacco reeled in a Greig pass while racing down the slot before backhanding a shot through Tallas' pads at 11:03.

The Phantoms ripped the game open 5:34 into the third period while down a man. Ian MacNeil won a battle for a loose puck at the Phantoms blueline and headed the puck toward center ice. Lephart took the pass, blew past the Penguins' defense. Breaking in alone on Tallas, Lephart roofed a shot on his backhand that gave the Phantoms a 5-1 lead. The goal was Lephart's second of the season. Lephart, a second-year forward out of Boston College, had a pair of goals and two helpers last April 5th in Wilkes-Barre.

Syracuse visits the First Union Spectrum tomorrow night in a 5:05 p.m. start.

NOTEWORTHY: The match's three stars: 1. Greig, 2. Sacco, 3. Niittymaki. The Phantoms scratched C Patrick Sharp, D Bruno St. Jacques and forward Jeff Smith...Wilkes-Barre/Scranton scratched D Darcy Robinson and RW Konstantin Koltsov.Slaney was named to the 2003 Canadian AHL All-Star team. Making his fourth consecutive appearance in the game, Slaney is Philadelphia's lone representative. Slaney's assist was his 100th point as a Phantom. Penguin Jason MacDonald fought Phantoms defenseman Ian Forbes in the first period. Forbes was the third Phantom to tangle with MacDonald on Philadelphia ice this season. Sacco's first-period goal was his first pro tally since March 30, 2001, when he recorded a goal with Washington.

Photos by Pedro Cancel

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