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Ice Hockey Spotlight:
Phantoms Edge Bulldogs 3-2

Wednesday, January 7, 2004

By Al Cohen
Philadelphia Phantoms Correspondent

Rookie Nick Deschenes scored the game-winning goal at 9:15 of the third period as the Philadelphia Phantoms posted a 3-2 victory over the Hamilton Bulldogs tonight at the Wachovia Spectrum.

Philadelphia took a 2-1 lead into the final period before Hamilton's Chris Higgins knotted the score just 59 seconds into the third. But with 10:45 to play in the game, Kirby Law got off a shot from the near circle and Deschenes was there to knock in the rebound for the game-winner. Fellow rookie Freddy Meyer also assisted on Deschenes' third goal of the year.

"It was a set play we did off a face-off," said Deschenes of his goal. "Kirby came across from the middle and got a nice pass and put it on net. I just whacked at it blindly and didn't even see it go in. Pretty fortunate."

Peter White finished with a goal and an assist, while Meyer had a pair of assists for the Phantoms, who have won consecutive games following a three-game skid. The win put Philadelphia back into sole possession of second place in the East Division, eight points behind idle Bridgeport.

Antero Niittymaki stopped 20-of-22 shots to notch the win as Philadelphia completed a two-game sweep of the Bulldogs this season. The Phantoms had registered a 1-0 win in Hamilton on Dec. 23.

"They are a good hockey team, they skate as well as anyone we've seen," said Phantoms head coach John Stevens about Hamilton. "They are a real tight-checking group, very dangerous offensively and very good defensively. We certainly feel we can play with any team when we are playing hard and I think we showed that tonight."

Making his AHL debut, Olivier Michaud made 20 saves for Hamilton, which remains atop the North Division despite going winless in its last five games (0-4-1). The Bulldogs are also 0-3-2 in their last five road games.

Hamilton opened the scoring 9:02 into the game on an unassisted goal by Jozef Balej. Phantoms defenseman Wade Skolney tried a clearing pass from the corner on the play and Balej intercepted the puck between the circles. The right wing then put a move on Niittymaki to tally his team-leading 21st goal of the year.

But the Phantoms evened the score at 1-1 with 61 seconds to go in the first period. Meyer took a feed from White and fired a shot on goal. The puck sailed wide right and bounced off the end boards back to Mike Peluso, who netted his 11th goal from the side of the net.

White scored the only goal of the second period to give Philadelphia a 2-1 advantage. Boyd Kane controlled the puck behind the Hamilton net before finding White, who placed a shot between Michaud and the post from just outside the crease. Skolney also assisted on White's eighth goal.

Higgins knotted the score at 2-2 during a five-minute power play due to a high-sticking major on Randy Jones. Ron Hainsey's initial shot deflected off a Phantom right to Higgins, who easily scored past an out-of-position Niittymaki. Francois Beauchemin also set up Higgins' eighth of the year.

After Deschenes' deciding goal, Hamilton had a pair of 5-on-3 advantages late in the period. Higgins had the best opportunity to force overtime, but his attempt from three feet away was somehow snared by Niittymaki with 4:17 to play.

"When it's 5-on-3, there is going to be a breakdown and that's the point where you need your goaltender to come up with some big saves," added Stevens. "When you get saves like Niittymaki made, it really helps you. In addition to a couple of guys blocking shots and clearing the zone, it makes killing the penalty a lot easier."

The Phantoms head out on the road this weekend to play at Springfield and Binghamton on Friday and Saturday. Philadelphia's next home game is set for Friday, Jan. 16 at 7:05 p.m. vs. the Hershey Bears.

Phantoms Notes: Earlier in the day, Dennis Seidenberg was reassigned from the Flyers and B.J. Abel was recalled from the Trenton Titans (ECHL) ... Joey Hope and James Laux were injured scratches, while Ian MacNeil and Kirk Furey were healthy scratches ... Mike Siklenka and Peter Vandermeer were suspended by the AHL ... White has assisted on 9-of-11 of Peluso's goals this year ... Law was named to the Canadian AHL All-Star team today ... Niittymaki has just three losses in his last 16 appearances (7-3-3 with 3 no-decisions) ... Ben Stafford played in his 200th game as a pro.

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