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Devils Edge Phantoms in Leighton's Return

March 3, 2013 - American Hockey League (AHL) Adirondack Phantoms

Michael Leighton is with Adirondack to try to get healthy and in game-shape again. After all, he had only played one game with Philadelphia this year before taking an injury that knocked him out of action. Leighton played his first game with the Phantoms since April 14, 2012 as the Devils snuck through in a 3-2 final.

A nice-sized and energetic crowd of 4,040 fans generated a big Sunday hockey atmosphere inside the Glens Falls Civic Center and many of the fans stayed late after the game for a 45-minute post-game photo session with all the players down on the ice. Especially long lines were seen for a couple of the most popular Phantoms' players; Michael Leighton and Zack FitzGerald. The fans were able to go around to each players' station to meet all the guys and snap some great pics.

Andreas Lilja scored his first goal as an Adirondack Phantom and Eric Wellwood had his sixth of the season with less than two minutes left in a comeback effort that fell just short. Philip DiSimone scored two goals for Albany and Joe Whitney had one goal and two assists as he continued his successful play against the Phantoms this year. Jeff Frazee picked up the win for the Devils with 36 saves on 38 shots.

The fans were rather excited to get the chance to see Leighton play again in Glens Falls. One of the most popular players in Adirondack Phantoms' history is 16th all-time in AHL wins with 170 and is 4th all-time in shutouts with 36. Leighton began the season not playing due to the NHL lockout and then played in only one game with Philadelphia before taking an injury. There were also no preseason games because of the late start of the NHL regular season. So this was only Leighton's second game of the year and he was mixed in with many players who were somewhere around their 40th or 50th games of the season.

Leighton said that the decision to come down to the Adirondack Phantoms was a mutual one with Philadelphia Flyers general manger Paul Holmgren.

"We talked about it some the past couple of weeks. When I got healthy again I needed to play some games," Leighton said following the game. "He was going to do a conditioning stint but we had too many players on the roster and (salary) cap issues. He said, 'We're going to have to put you on waivers and go down to play some games and hopefully be back up.' "

His current stint with the Phantoms is a necessary step to getting game-ready after seeing so little action this year.

"He (Holmgren) told me I definitely needed to play and I agreed," Leighton said. "I hadn't played for awhile. I played one game against Tampa Bay and then I sat for two or three weeks and then I got hurt and I've been out for two or three weeks. It's something I thought was the right thing to do. I needed to go down and play some games to get back into the rhythm of playing games again."

Albany and Adirondack battled to a 0-0 score in the first period. Zack FitzGerald dropped the gloves with Albany's Cam Jenssen in a particularly impressive fight. The crowd came to a roar on a couple of Fitzy's overhand haymakers in one of the best bouts of the year.

Albany scored early in the second period on a rush into the Phantoms zone and a shot from the right circle by Philip DeSimone beating Leighton over the glove.

A few minutes later, Adirondack was denied by Frazee on a close call and then Albany was able to transition back the other way quickly with Boston College product Joe Whitney chipping in his 17th goal of the season on a feed from the right-wing even though he was defended.

Andreas Lilja saw an opening past the left skate of Frazee and smartly blasted a low slapshot into the corner for his first goal as a Phantom. For the 37-year-old not normally known for lighting the lamp, it was his goal since January 2, 2011 for the Anaheim Ducks against Chicago. It was also his first AHL goal in 12 years. He had seven goals in his rookie season in 2000-01 with the Lowell Lock Monsters and had not scored again in his very limited and infrequent stints in the league since then.

A turnover on a cross-ice pass in the Phantoms zone led to an intercept by Joe Whitney and DeSimone's second goal of the game to allow Albany to take a 3-1 lead in the third period.

Shane Harper neatly found Eric Wellwood in the right circle to roof his sixth of the season with less than two minutes left. And Adirondack was given a second-life after that when an Albany empty-net goal by Mike Sislo was waved off with 1:00 left due to an offside call. But the Phantoms were unable to get the tying goal even with that extra chance and extra attacker and took the 3-2 loss.

Both teams went 0-for-3 on the power play. Adirondack outshot the Devils 38-28.

Scratches for the Phantoms included David Laliberte, Mitch Wahl and Jeff Dimmen. The Phantoms are currently carrying three goalies on the roster so Cal Heeter dressed as the backup goalie to Leighton while Scott Munroe was a scratch.

The game was the 10th out of 12 in the Time Warner Cable Cup rivalry series this year and was also Albany's last visit to Glens Falls. The Phantoms will travel to the Times Union Center next Sunday afternoon and later will return to conclude the regular season on Sunday, April 21.

The Phantoms are at home next weekend for back to back games on Friday and Saturday against the Springfield Falcons and Connecticut Whale. $2 Draft Beer Specials on Friday and Phantoms T-Shirt Giveaway Night (first 2,500 fans) on Saturday. Call the Phantoms for tickets at 518-480-3355.

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