I knew it was going to be a rough campaign for rookie goaltender Matt O'Connor in his first season in the pros, but I didn't expect it was going to be to this extent. But he continues to battle through, and tonight he was successful as he backstopped the Binghamton Senators in a 3-1 win over the visiting Lehigh Valley Phantoms. His 35 saves earned him First Star honors as a determined bunch of teammates did not want to end the weekend feeling the sting of yet another loss.
Tonight's contest was decidedly different than Friday's effort when they fell short to the Hershey Bears, with fore-checking being front and center as the chippy contest took place. A hard fought, physical night that suited the Senators well, that is more their style which at times seems to elude them on other nights, with the players just caving in. Not in this one, as the Phantoms were coming on strong in the third period, but the Senators turned it around in their favor to secure the win in furthering Lehigh Valley's slim playoff hopes.
Binghamton manufactured the first goal as Kyle Flanagan, who continues to impress night in and night out, headed a shorthanded breakaway only to have Phantoms netminder Anthony Stolarz secure a leg save, but he didn't cover the puck in time. As a result, Max McCormick dug hard in loosening in out to Adam Comrie, who's clearing attempt came at the hands of Senators defenseman Mark Fraser, as his slapper found the mesh from top of the circle for a 1-0 lead.
Newly acquired Jason Akeson then bobbed and weaved his way toward the net and sniped one past Stolarz from nearby left circle for his first goal as a Senator that gave them a two goal lead. That one woke up Lehigh Valley, as they found their legs and turned up the pressure that rewarded them with a goal by Petr Straka. Primary assist went to Cole Bardreau, as his pass in front found Straka that spun him around and sent one by O'Connor's blocker side high into the net.
With the Senators hanging to a one goal lead in the final period, a golden opportunity came and went when Akeson and Travis Ewanyk leaped to an odd man rush. As Akeson's pass was dead on for Ewanyk to score from the slot, he sent the puck wide with Phantoms' defenseman Christian Marti interfering with Stolarz inside his cage. Just minutes earlier Phil Varone also had a breakaway that Stolarz flashed the glove on, frustrating the Senators.
However, they would recover with hard work and determination that netted an insurance goal with 8:28 left. Buddy Robinson's pass from behind the net was to an open McCormick, and he wasted little time as he rifled the puck home from the slot for his tenth of the season.
Drama ensued with less than two minutes left, when Lehigh Valley pulled Stolarz and was awarded an extra player in addition when Dave Dziurzynski was sent to the box for holding with 1:06 remaining. But the Senators came through on the six on four disadvantage and protected the two goal lead without letting the Phantoms set-up in the offensive zone that capped off the win.
POST GAME NOTES
- Full line-up as the team came together with no passengers, just hard work and good goaltending. O'C looks to get better and better the more he plays with the team supporting him. Good confidence builder.
- Zack Stortini was challenged by ex-teammate Jay Rosehill in the first, as the two heavyweights battled hard throwing rights with Rosehill landing, knocking Zack's helmet off despite the take-down by Storts.
- Michael Keranen is intriguing after a small two game sample this weekend. Despite him being hampered with a full-on face shield, he's got some grit and doesn't shy away from the rough stuff, while having some offensive skills with good speed. Don't know why he has that full helmet and whether that's a factor of his play on a new team, but he'll be someone to keep an eye on for sure.
- Fraser not known as an offensive weapon for obvious reasons, scored his first goal in 68 games dating back to his time with the Albany Devils. He also came close to nailing his second on a bank shot off the side boards that just missed the empty net in the latter part of the evening with Stolarz pulled.
- Gut check time came when defensemen Ben Harpur and Fredrik Claesson both mishandled the puck around their net that almost led to a Phantom goal late in the game, as they whiffed in attempt for an outlet pass up the middle. If so, this recap would've turned upside down with a possible different outcome.
- Defenseman Michael Kostka was called up after Friday nights game against Hershey with Mark Borowiecki out on injury.
Two on tap next week as Binghamton travels to Newfoundland to take on the IceCaps on Tuesday and Wednesday.
*Cover Pic & Insert Courtesy of @AliciaS20
Coming up on next week's Bingo Bites the 3rd Quarter Grades.