UTICA — The Utica Comets survived two goals against them in the opening minutes of the second period of Friday night’s AHL game against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, then scored five unanswered goals to win 5-2.
Carter Bancks, Ashton Sautner, Reid Boucher, Tom Pyatt and Brendan Gaunce scored for Utica. Michael Leighton made 25 saves to earn his second straight win.
The two teams punched and counter-punched for the entire first period, with the Phantoms killing off the only power play Utica would have all night. After 20 minutes it was scoreless.
Justin Bailey scored 52 seconds into the second period, bouncing a puck off of Leighton’s back then off of a skate in the crease. Philippe Myers doubled the lead 45 seconds later when he dragged the puck across the goal mouth and around a sprawling Leighton.
Bancks, the captain, cut the lead to one, grabbing a rebound low on the right side and reaching out to stuff it past goalie Mike McKenna at the 6:28 mark of the middle frame. Jaime Sifers and Lukas Jasek tallied the assists.
Comets coach Trent Cull said the team didn’t need a speech in the second intermission to get motivated, they just went over adjustments. The team was breaking out and transitioning to offense so the key, he said, was keeping the momentum it had built in the end of the second period. “We gave up too many chances,” he said. But overall, “we were playing OK.”
“It was a long two months,” said Sautner after the win about his injury rehabilitation. He said he wanted to put the injury in the past so getting a goal in his first game back “felt great. It wasn’t very pretty, but as a D man,” he said, he’d take just about any goal.
It was Sautner who evened the game early in the third period. Cull called it “A great story,” and the goal itself “a great shot by Ashton.” He said the team has missed defensemen like Sautner and Jalen Chatfield, who are now back from injury.
Sautner tied the game 30 seconds into the third period, beating McKenna with a wrist shot from the top of the left circle. Tanner Kero and Zack MacEwen picked up the assists. Boucher slipped a shot through McKenna’s five-hole at the 3:54 mark of the third to give Utica their first lead of the night. MacEwen and Stefan LeBlanc had the assists.
Thirty seconds later, Pyatt converted on a two-on-one rush with Brendan Woods to bring the Comets’ lead to 4-2. Sautner also collected an assist on the goal. Gaunce tipped a shot from Pyatt to push Utica’s lead to 5-2 halfway through the third period.
The Comets killed off all three Lehigh Valley power plays in the win. Sautner said the turning point was to come out after the second intermission, “clamp down and keep taking it to them.”
Utica is now tied with the Toronto Marlies for third in the North Division. The Comets are back at it tonight as they host the Rochester Americans at 7.