GLENS FALLS -- If there’s been a formula for the Adirondack Phantoms’ second-half success, it looks much like their 2-1 victory over the Hershey Bears on Friday.
The Phantoms got just enough timely offense, a gritty defensive effort, and superior, NHL-caliber goaltending from Michael Leighton to knock off the defending Calder Cup champions before a crowd of 3,653 at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
After an 0-2 southern swing earlier in the week, this was more like the team that has played consistently strong hockey since late December.
“We came out and played a better team effort tonight,” said Ben Holmstrom, who scored is 14th goal of the season in the first period. “I think it was a good effort all-around. We wanted to bounce back after struggling a bit on the road and came out and got the job done.”
Leighton just missed his getting his 33rd career AHL shutout. And after initially being awarded a goal in his professional debut, standout rookie Matt Read had it taken away upon further review.
Those are about the only things that could have gone the Phantoms’ way that didn’t.
Brian Willsie beat Leighton on a shot from the blue line midway through the third to cut the Phantoms’ lead to 2-1 and spoil Leighton’s bid for his fourth shutout of the season.
Leighton stopped 33 shots to win for the fourth time in his last five games. He was busy to the game’s waning moments.
“He made some huge saves,” Holmstrom said. “He made a huge save with one or two seconds left when he kicked the pad out on the guy backdoor. He was unbelievable tonight.”
Read, who signed out of Bemidji St. earlier in the week, practiced with the team for the first time Friday morning.
It appeared he’d scored less than two minutes into the third, deflecting a Cullen Eddy shot from the point. But after an initial announcement crediting him, the goal was later changed to Eddy.
“I knew I didn’t hit it,” Read said. “I felt pressure on my back. I just tried to get my stick in the lane. I didn’t hit it at all. I’d take credit for it, but I’m an honest man, I’ll give it to somebody else.”
Adirondack coach Joe Paterson threw him into a key role immediately, giving him time on the power play and using him on a scoring line with Denis Hamel and Eric Wellwood.
“Part of it was coming off two losses where we had a lot of scoring chances and weren’t able to capitalize so we wanted to get more offense back in the lineup,” Paterson said. “That’s what he’s done in college and we wanted to get a good look at him tonight.”
Those glimpses into the future will be a big part of the Phantoms’ final 10 games. But Holmstrom and Paterson insisted there’s more to play for.
The team trails Syracuse by three points and Albany by five in the race to escape the East Division basement.
“We’re just trying to finish on a good note here, trying to play a solid team game and stick the course and try and finish out strong,” Holmstrom said.
Loose pucks: AHL President and CEO David Andrews was in attendance. … Stefan Legein and J.P. Testwuide were healthy scratches.
Hershey (42-34-2-5) 0 0 1 — 1
Adirondack (25-25-4-6) 1 0 1 — 2
First period — 1, Adirondack, Holmstrom 14 (Ryan, Bordson), 14:25. Penalties — Kozek, Her (tripping), 6:25; Kane, Her (high-sticking), 17:42.
Second period — none. Penalties — Carroll, Her (fighting), 4:58; Bourdon, Adk (fighting), 4:58; Marshall, Adk (hooking), 9:05; Hamel, Adk (cross-checking), 14:37; Fahey, Her (slashing), 16:30; Pinizzotto, Her (roughing), 19:23.
Third period — 2, Adirondack, Eddy 2 (Sestito), 1:35; 3, Hershey, Willsie 29 (McNeill, Collins), 10:14. Penalties — Zolnierczyk, Adk (interference), 14:15.
Shots on goal — Hershey 10-13-11-34; Adirondack 12-11-8-31.
Power-play opportunities — Hershey 0 / 3; Adirondack 0 / 4.
Goalies — Hershey, Schaefer 12-18-3 (31 shots-29 saves); Adirondack, Leighton 9-11-3 (34 shots-33 saves).
Referee — T. Koharski.
A — 3,653.