Photo credit: discoverlehighvalley.com
For the second night in a row, AJ Greer was the hero for the Utica Comets – this time it was in the shootout.
AJ Greer of the Utica Comets is having himself one heck of a weekend.
On Friday night his four goals provided all of his team’s offense in their 4-2 victory over the Rochester Americans. He then provided it when the Comets needed it the most on Saturday night to give them a 3-2 win in the shootout over the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
A relatively even first-period saw both teams each notch a goal. Lehigh Valley got on the board first when Charlie Gerard scooped up a loose puck in the neutral zone, skated in on Utica goaltender Akira Schmid (who was reassigned to the Comets the morning of this game), and beat Schmid with a wrist shot to give the Phantoms an early 1-0 lead. Just over five and a half minutes later, the Comets answered back, when a Michael Vukojevic pass through the neutral zone sprung Alexander Holtz on a breakaway. Holtz beat Lehigh Valley goaltender Felix Sandstrom, and although it was reviewed because the net came off of its moorings, it was ruled a good goal, and the score was tied at one.
Shortly after the Holtz goal, Sandstrom left the game with an apparent injury. Kirill Ustimenko entered the game to replace Sandstrom (he had backup duties in this game for the Phantoms, not Garrett Metcalf) and was outstanding for the rest of the way. Prior to Saturday night’s game, Ustimenko’s record this season was 0-2-1-0 with a 2.89 GAA and .906 save percentage.
The Comets have been having a problem with getting outshot in the second period, but that was not the case in this game. They controlled play for most of the period and outshot Lehigh Valley nine to three. They also scored the only goal of the frame when Brian Flynn faked a shot from the left side and slid a cross-ice pass to Nolan Foote who blasted a one-timer past Ustimenko for his ninth goal of the season. The period ended with the Comets on a five on three powerplay and a two to one lead.
The Phantoms killed off the rest of the Comets five on three powerplay to start the third period, and then got a goal of their own. Connor Bunnaman snapped a shot from the left point that was tipped by Phantoms leading goal scorer Hayden Hodgson past Schmid to tie the game at two. The score would remain tied through the rest of the third period, and the game went to a three on three overtime period.
During the overtime, the Comets had several chances to win the game but Ustimenko stopped all of them. Not to be outdone, Schmid made a huge save at the 2:40 mark on a point-blank chance by Bunnaman. With no goals scored in the overtime, a shootout was needed to determine who would get the extra point in the standings. With no goals scored through the first three and a half rounds, AJ Greer beat Ustimenko with a backhand shot into the top of the Lehigh Valley net to give the Comets their thirtieth win of the season.
Notes: Utica outshot Lehigh Valley 31 to 27…Utica was 0 for 3 on the powerplay, Lehigh Valley was 0 for 4…Michael Vukojevic led all Utica scorers with two points (both assists)…Lehigh Valley had four players with one point each…With his goal, Alexander Holtz tied Fabian Zetterlund for the Comets team lead in goals with eighteen…Utica is the first team in the American Hockey League to reach thirty wins this season…Lehigh Valley plays again on Sunday at home against Springfield…Utica plays again on Friday night at home against the Hershey Bears.