WILKES-BARRE, Pa. – It’s crunch time in the race to the Calder Cup Playoffs with less than a month remaining in the regular season. Saturday night, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms visited the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins with crucial points on the line for both teams. The Phantoms are trying to secure a bid in the postseason for the first time since 2018, while the Penguins are looking to climb back into the conversation for the sixth and final spot in the race for the postseason. It only fits that big points would be on the line in a Pennsylvania rivalry game, the penultimate game between the two teams this season, and the Phantoms would take a thriller in overtime by a 3-2 count thanks to a winner from Adam Brooks. Samuel Ersson scored the win with 19 saves, while Taylor Gauthier suffered the loss with 21 stops.
With the Penguins celebrating Star Wars Night with specialty jerseys based on “The Mandalorian,” it was fitting that the visiting Phantoms had their Dark Side jerseys on to fit the theme. The Penguins would get on the board first as Drake Caggiula blocked a shot at his blue line and rushed the other way all alone, firing a perfect shot like a proton torpedo guided by the Force and hitting the target for a 1-0 lead.
We love to see it Anisimov!
1-1 Tie#LVvsWBS | #OurValleyOurHome pic.twitter.com/Ni4KFF9Ilz
— Lehigh Valley Phantoms (@LVPhantoms) March 25, 2023
Evil was everywhere on the ice in this game, as a former Penguin who fell to the Dark Side in Garrett Wilson would be credited with the tying goal. Wilson threw the puck towards the goal from the boards along the faceoff circle that appeared to perhaps be deflected in by Artem Anisimov, driving to the net. It’s doubtful that the Penguins will try to see the good in Wilson as Luke Skywalker did to Darth Vader on this day as he burns his former team to even the count at one.
Whatdya say Mani?!
Josh Maniscalco notches his first AHL goal with this shot! pic.twitter.com/UMk07p4izo
— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) March 25, 2023
Whether it’s a small group of clone troopers outwitting numerous battle droids or a small group of Rebel starfighters destroying the Death Star, Star Wars loves its underdog stories. The Penguins had one of their own on Saturday as Josh Maniscalco scored his first American Hockey League goal on a strange bounce as a defender initially stopped his shot, but it careened past Ersson to give the Penguins a 2-1 lead.
The dark powers in the Star Wars universe typically don’t play fair, whether it’s General Grevious using four lightsabers or the Empire’s seemingly invulnerable AT-AT walkers. In this instance, it’d be the longtime National Hockey League skater, Artem Anisimov, who would not be denied his 17th goal on the year in this game, burying a feed from Bobby Brink to even the score at two. The game would go beyond regulation, with both teams earning a point in a very evenly played game between two rivals.
Adam Brooks gives the @LVPhantoms a 3-2 OT win. pic.twitter.com/FvxaJ8dp42
— American Hockey League (@TheAHL) March 26, 2023
In the extra session, Anisimov said “hello there” to Jonathan Gruden from an offensive zone faceoff, chipping the puck past him and feeding Brooks out of the corner to bury the game-winner just 37 seconds into the extra session. The Revenge of the Sith was complete at Mohegan Sun Arena as the Phantoms skated off with the second point to maintain their position in the Atlantic Division standings, while just one point is another blow to Wilkes-Barre’s efforts to press for the sixth and final playoff spot in the division.
Two points separate the fifth-place Phantoms from the sixth-place Bridgeport Islanders as Lehigh Valley hits 70 for the year. If the playoffs began today, Lehigh Valley would face the Springfield Thunderbirds in the play-in round, in perhaps the most interesting series in the league.
The Phantoms are getting reinforcements ahead of a vital tilt with the Hershey Bears on Sunday as the Philadelphia Flyers assigned Tyson Foerster and Egor Zamula to Lehigh Valley, setting the stage for a big-time Pennsylvania rivalry game. The Phantoms are three points back of the Thunderbirds, as both teams have just nine games remaining this season.
It’s another blow to Wilkes-Barre’s playoff hopes with ten games left on their slate. The Penguins are seven points back of the Islanders for the sixth and final playoff spot, with just one head-to-head game on the schedule on April 8. They’ll turn their attention to the team directly ahead of them in the standings as they’ll look to draw to within two points of the Hartford Wolf Pack on Sunday in what should be playoff-style hockey for two desperate teams.
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