Ustimenko Sparkles in AHL Debut
Wilkes-Barre, Pa. - The Belarusians led the way! Rookie goalie Kirill Ustimenko dazzled in his AHL debut and Maksim Sushko scored a pair of goals in a 5-3 win for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Saturday night. Sushko and Ustimenko were the lone natives of Belarus selected in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and both proudly represented their country in an exciting rivalry-night win far away from their homeland.
Ustimenko stole the show with a 38-save gem that included several spectacular denials as the Phantoms built a 5-1 lead before the Penguins pushed across a pair in the closing minutes with the game having been mostly decided. The 21-year-old from Belarus, who also has Russian citizenship, made 35 consecutive saves between goals allowed at the very beginning and near the end of the contest. He is coming off ECHL Goalie of the Month honors with the Reading Royals in January.
Ustimenko made a big breakaway stop on Kevin Roy in the second period plus an impressive, sprawling save to his left to deny Cole Cassels on the backdoor among his several terrific stops along the way.
Sushko (8th, 9th) recorded his second multi-goal night of the season with consecutive tallies in the first period including an unassisted shorthanded marker from the left circle going top shelf followed a few minutes later by his blast from the slot set up by Greg Carey from and Kyle Criscuolo.
Lehigh Valley (21-22-6) also received goals from Isaac Ratcliffe (4th), Kyle Criscuolo (8th) and Gerry Fitzgerald (6th) while Tyler Wotherspoon registered a pair of assists for a second consecutive night.
The Phantoms third straight win evened their overall record against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (24-18-8) this season at 4-4-1.
Isaac Ratcliffe scored from in tight after a Penguins turnover was kept in by Wotherspoon and fired forward by Fitzgerald providing the Phantoms an early 1-0 lead just 2:07 into the game. Ratcliffe banged it through Penguins goalie Emil Larmi for his fourth of the season. Two of his goals this year have come against Larmi who has surrendered 11 total goals in just two appearances against the Phantoms.
The Penguins countered less than a minute later with Kevin Roy (9th) striking from the right dot over the glove of Ustimenko at 3:03 into the contest on just their second shot of the game.
From that point, the Phantoms leaned on Ustimenko heavily as the Penguins swarmed the Phantoms zone to an early 15-6 shot advantage. But Ustimenko kept the game tied 1-1 eventually setting the stage for Sushko to score his consecutive lamplighters for a 3-1 advantage at the first intermission.
Lehigh Valley continued momentum into the second and built on its lead with a nifty give-and-go between Criscuolo and David Kase who passed right back to the left wing from the slot instead of shooting. Criscuolo's blast was his second goal of the weekend and provided the Phantoms a comfortable 4-1 advantage at the next intermission.
The Phantoms struck again less than four minutes into the third on a drive from the right circle by Fitzgerald off the right arm of Larmi that deflected in the air and blooped behind him barely making it across the goal-line for a 5-1 lead. Friedman's impressive head-man pass to Fitzgerald was the lone assist on the play.
The Penguins broke Ustimenko's streak of 35 straight saves with a goal at 13:07 into the third by Myles Powell on a give-and-go with Jake Lucchini. Powell's first in the AHL cut the deficit to 5-2.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton pulled their goalie in favor of an extra-attacker with 5:59 remaining and played 6-on-5 for most of the rest of the way. Sushko had a long drive with about three minutes remaining bidding for an empty-netter to complete the team's first hat trick of the year. Lehigh Valley had a couple other long clears that missed the empty-net.
The Penguins finally broke through for their last goal with just 20.1 second left with Jan Drozg (4th) connecting on the back-door after a between-the-skates flick by Jamie Devane.
The Penguins out shot Lehigh Valley 41-32. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was 0-for-3 on the power play as Lehigh Valley's penalty-kill streak reached 22 in a row over the past eight games. The Phantoms went 0-for-4 on the power play.
The Phantoms return to PPL Center Sunday afternoon at 3:05 in another rivalry showdown, this time welcoming the first-place Hershey Bears. Several area mascots will be in attendance to celebrate meLVin's birthday and the fans will get to join the players on the ice for a post-game skate event.
Lehigh Valley Phantoms 5 at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 3
Saturday - Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza
Lehigh Valley 3 1 1 - 5
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 1 0 2 - 3
1st Period-1, Lehigh Valley, Ratcliffe 4 (Fitzgerald, Wotherspoon), 2:07. 2, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Roy 9 (Blandisi), 3:03. 3, Lehigh Valley, Sushko 8 10:39 (SH). 4, Lehigh Valley, Sushko 9 (Carey, Criscuolo), 14:02. Penalties-Gabriel Lv (fighting), 2:16; Devane Wbs (fighting), 2:16; de Haas Lv (cross-checking), 10:26; Powell Wbs (interference), 15:24; Di Pauli Wbs (slashing), 17:40.
2nd Period-5, Lehigh Valley, Criscuolo 8 (Kase, Wotherspoon), 11:59. Penalties-Cassels Wbs (tripping), 6:27.
3rd Period-6, Lehigh Valley, Fitzgerald 6 (Friedman), 3:58. 7, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Powell 1 (Lucchini, Trotman), 13:07. 8, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Drozg 4 (Devane, Di Pauli), 19:46. Penalties-Di Pauli Wbs (cross-checking), 1:30; Sushko Lv (boarding), 4:07; Nyberg Wbs (tripping), 7:24; Criscuolo Lv (tripping), 9:28.
Shots on Goal-Lehigh Valley 3-1-1-5. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 1-0-2-3.
Power Play Opportunities-Lehigh Valley 0 / 4; Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 0 / 3.
Goalies-Lehigh Valley, Ustimenko 0-0-0 (41 shots-38 saves). Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Larmi 2-2-4 (32 shots-27 saves).
Referees-Mitch Dunning (43), Peter Schlittenhardt (12).
Linesmen-Patrick Dapuzzo (57), Jud Ritter (34).
NEXT TIME OUT: The Phantoms will be back in action on Sunday afternoon at 3:05 pm when they take on the Hershey Bears at PPL Center to celebrate meLVin's birthday.
Images from this story
Lehigh Valley Phantoms goaltender Kirill Ustimenko vs. the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
Lehigh Valley Phantoms goaltender Kirill Ustimenko vs. the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
Lehigh Valley Phantoms goaltender Kirill Ustimenko with teammates
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