With six-goal eruption, Phantoms advance

Posted: May 14, 2005

Another trip up the Northeast extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike to Wilkes-Barre appeared inevitable for the Phantoms last night. Instead, they are headed for their recliners.

Trailing by three goals with under 12 minutes remaining, the Phantoms broke loose for six unanswered scores and stunned the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, 7-4, in an American Hockey League East Division playoff game at the Wachovia Center.

The victory clinched the best-of-seven series, four games to one, for the Phantoms, who advanced to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1999. A loss last night would have forced a Game 6 tonight in Wilkes-Barre.

The Phantoms, who have off from practice today, will play the winner of the Lowell-Providence series next. The Phantoms will host the series' first two games, Friday and next Saturday at the Wachovia Center. Providence leads its series, three games to one.

The Phantoms set a team playoff record with six goals in a period last night; the previous record had been five, set twice before.

"The desperation came to us in the third period," said Phantoms center Mike Richards, who had a goal and an assist. "We didn't want to go to Wilkes-Barre."

When Tomas Surovy scored his second goal of the game to give the Penguins a 4-1 lead just 37 seconds into the third period, Phantoms coach John Stevens pulled goaltender Antero Niittymaki. Surovy's goal was a bad one to allow, having come from an extreme angle. Neil Little, making his 2005 postseason debut, replaced Niittymaki.

"Down, 4-1, I was thinking of Saturday to be honest with you," Stevens said. "Niittymaki has played a lot of hockey - back-to-back games - and we wanted to get him out of there and get [Little] in there."

Josh Gratton started the Phantoms' comeback at 8 minutes, 37 seconds of the third period, scoring on a wrist shot after stealing the puck inside the blue line.

"I've never seen anything like this comeback," Gratton said.

Jeff Carter followed with the first of two goals, stuffing in a rebound at 11:45. The goal gave the Phantoms renewed life.

Slightly more than a minute later, the Phantoms tied the score, 4-4, on Jon Sim's wrist shot past heavily screened Penguins goalie Andy Chiodo.

Ryan Ready broke the tie when he scored on a rebound at 13:56. Chiodo was replaced at that point by Marc-Andre Fleury. The Phantoms also switched goalies again; Niittymaki was reinserted for Little, who made two saves.

"The guys had worked so hard to go from 4-1 to 5-4," Niittymaki said. "I was fired up to get back."

So were his teammates.

Carter, named the game's No. 1 star, added his second goal at 17:20. Sim closed out the scoring with an empty-net goal with four seconds remaining.

Richards had opened the scoring on a shorthanded goal in the game's first minute. That was the ninth time in 11 postseason games that the Penguins surrendered the first goal. The goal ignited the crowd of 7,511. But from there, the Penguins controlled most of the next two periods, taking a 3-1 lead.

"We looked tired for two periods, and they looked like they had energy," Stevens said. "In the third period, they looked tired and we looked like we had energy."

Defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, who missed the previous three games with a broken finger, returned to the lineup and boosted the Phantoms' defense.

Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or mnarducci@phillynews.com.

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