ALBANY -- Ever since Matt Ford joined the Phantoms last month, he’s had a running joke with teammate Shane Harper.
Before every game, Harper tells Ford that he’s going to be the best California player on the ice that night. Ford, naturally, thinks he will be.
Saturday night, the two West Coast kids could share the honor.
Harper scored twice and Ford had the game-winner with 1:36 left in overtime as Adirondack rallied for a 3-2 victory over Albany to extend its winning streak to four games and end a six-game losing skid at the Times Union Center before a crowd of 6,121.
“I came back and (Ford) said, ‘How many did you get?’I said, ‘Two, but you’re first star, I guess you got me tonight.’ ” Harper said.
They’ll both be happy to play second fiddle if the Phantoms keep playing the way they have. Since a disastrous stretch last month when they lost nine of 10, the Phantoms have brought their season back from the brink. They’ve won four in a row, five of six and seven of nine to re-enter the playoff race.
“We realized what kind of team we have. We shouldn’t be losing. We should be competing every night to win the game in the end and I think we realized that,” Harper said.
Saturday’s win came in spite of some major obstacles.
Forward Eric Wellwood and defenseman Erik Gustafsson were both called up by the Flyers before the game.
Ben Holmstrom missed his second straight game with an upper-body injury and Marc-Andre Bourdon remained out with what’s not being called an upper-body injury.
Then the game began, and Albany, which had won eight of 11 games, jumped out to leads of 1-0 and 2-1.
Harper tied it with 6:47 remaining on his second acrobatic goal of the game. He won the race to a loose puck in the crease on the power play and stabbed it home as he flipped over Devils goalie Keith Kinkaid.
The teams traded power-play chances at the end of regulation and overtime. As Albany’s overtime power play expired, the Phantoms found Ford coming out of the box.
In a three-on-three situation, he tried to pass the puck across to Garrett Roe, but it hit a defenseman’s stick and beat Kinkaid five-hole.
“You don’t want to take a penalty in OT. You just hope the boys do their job,” Ford said. “I got out of the box, I just wanted to give the team a chance.”
Michael Leighton saved the game with a diving, post-to-post save on Joe Whitney during the Devils’ overtime power play. That came just moments after Denis Hamel rang one off the inside of the post at the other end.
In his last three starts, Leighton is 3-0, with a 1.33 goals-against-average and a .962 save percentage.
“I like playing a lot of games. The more games I play, the more comfortable I feel. I’ve been feeling good,” Leighton said.
The Phantoms have won at least two out of three games for three straight weekends. They’ll have a tough task trying to make it a season-high five straight wins on Sunday against a high-powered Wilkes-Barre/Scranton team that hasn’t played since last Sunday.
But they’ll worry about that in the morning. For a night at least, the Phantoms had a comeback worth savoring.
“Overall as a team I thought we really played well and stayed with the plan and kept battling,” coach Joe Paterson said. “It didn’t seem like we worried about the score.”
Adirondack (28-26-2-1) 0 1 1 1 — 3
Albany (27-21-6-3) 1 1 0 0 — 2
First period — 1, Albany, Perkovich 9 (Nagy, Harrold), 5:44; Penalties — Whitney, Alb (holding), 7:03; Zharkov, Alb (holding), 10:58; Eddy, Adk (slashing), 17:19.
Second period — 2, Adirondack, Harper 10 (Zolnierczyk, Bordson), 6:08; 3, Albany, Gelinas 13 (Perkovich, Berube), 13:33. Penalties — Kessel, Adk (hooking), 7:07.
Third period — 4, Adirondack, Harper 11 (Zolnierczyk, Akeson), 13:13 (PP). Penalties — Lauridsen, Adk (high-sticking), 9:35; Manning, Adk (misconduct-unsportsmanlike conduct), 9:35; Zajac, Alb (interference), 11:43; Testwuide, Adk (roughing), 12:06; Kelly, Alb (roughing), 12:06; Zalewski, Alb (high-sticking), 13:57; Gelinas, Alb (cross-checking), 19:00.
Overtime — 5, Adirondack, Ford 17 (Manning, Roe), 3:24. Penalties — Ford, Adk (slashing), 1:13.
Shots on goal — Adirondack 10-7-14-3-34; Albany 10-10-8-4-32.
Power-play opportunities — Adirondack 1/5; Albany 0/4.
Goalies — Adirondack, Leighton 19-20-0 (32 shots-30 saves); Albany, Kinkaid 15-15-1 (34 shots-31 saves).
Referees — Charron, Lewis.
A — 6,121.