|Ice Hockey Spotlight:
Phantoms Post 2-1 Win in Game One of East Division Semifinals
Wednesday, April 21, 2004
By Al Cohen
Ian MacNeil and Stefan Ruzicka each scored to lead the Philadelphia Phantoms to a 2-1 victory over the Norfolk Admirals in Game One of the East Division Semifinals tonight at the Wachovia Center.
Antero Niittymaki made 30 saves and recorded an assist on MacNeil's goal to notch the win in his first postseason appearance as a Phantom.
Philadelphia was playing its first game since the regular-season finale 10 days ago, as the team captured the division title and had to await the winner of the qualifying round series between Norfolk and Binghamton.
"You never know how your team is going to react after a layoff," said Phantoms head coach John Stevens. "I thought we were tremendous. We got a little bit on our heals late, but that is understandable. But I thought for coming off a layoff, we played with a lot of energy, had a lot of poise and we got some solid play from everybody dressed."
Admirals goaltender Michael Leighton, who registered a shutout in each of Norfolk's two wins over Binghamton last week, stopped 33-of-35 shots tonight.
Philadelphia opened the scoring with 58.8 seconds to go in the first period on a seemingly harmless shot by MacNeil. After accepting a long pass from Niittymaki at center ice, MacNeil skated in a step and launched a rising slap shot on net. Leighton got a piece of the puck, but it dropped behind him past the goal line.
"I just tried to get it deep to get a (line) change," recalled MacNeil about his goal. "He just misread it. It was good we got the first goal of the game. Anytime you can get up, you can carry it from there. He is a good goalie so we just have to keep putting the puck on the net as much as we can and try banging it in."
The Phantoms struck again with 6:39 left in the second period with just three seconds remaining in a Jason Morgan high sticking minor. On the play, Freddy Meyer and P.J. Stock worked the puck to Ruzicka, who let fly a drive from the top of the far circle.
Leighton again could not handle the high shot and the puck landed in the net for Ruzicka's first goal as a pro. The 19-year-old had signed a tryout contract on April 10 and appeared in Philadelphia's last two regular-season games.
Norfolk cut the gap to 2-1 with 3:12 to play in the third on Shawn Thornton's first goal of the playoffs. Marty Wilford and Igor Radulov received assists on the play. Leighton was then pulled for a sixth-attacker with just over a minute remaining, but Norfolk could not tally the equalizer.
Philadelphia won the season series, 5-4-1, over Norfolk and is meeting the Admirals in the playoffs for the first time.
The Phantoms host Game Two on Friday at 7:05 p.m. before the series moves to Norfolk for Games Three and Four next Tuesday and Wednesday. Game Five, if necessary, will also be played in Norfolk on Friday, April 30.
Phantoms Notes: Stephen Wood, James Laux, Mike Peluso, Les Borsheim, Brett Engelhardt, Ben Eager, Joey Hope and Craig Berube were scratches ... Randy Jones was reassigned from the Flyers earlier in the day ... Jeff Carter signed an ATO this morning and made his pro debut tonight ... Dennis Seidenberg returned to action after missing the final 42 games of the regular season with a broken leg ... Former Phantom Jim Vandermeer was in attendance ... Philadelphia is 9-6 all-time in the first game of a playoff series ... The team is also 9-6 when playing a postseason game at the Center.
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