WILKES-BARRE TWP. – It was going to take something special to change the course of Saturday's game between the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and Toronto Marlies.
The first two periods featured an intense goaltenders' battle between Jeff Zatkoff and Toronto's Ben Scrivens, keeping things scoreless into the third period.
And that's when Penguins' special teams connected with Riley Holzapfel's power play goal less than three minutes to play to break a 1-1 tie and give Wilkes-Barre/Scranton a 2-1 win.
It was an electrifying ending to a game that was more like a chess match, with each goaltender going save-for-save and both teams playing disciplined.
With the game tied 1-1 after Toronto's Will Acton and Simon Despres exchanged goals midway into the third period, things changed abruptly.
With less than four minutes left, Toronto's Nicolas Deschamps shoved Beau Bennett from behind in front of the benches, sparking a scrum that resulted in a Penguins power play.
And with Scrivens playing solid in the Toronto net, the Penguins needed a special teams break if they were going to win.
More often than not it does (require a special teams goal with two hot goaltenders). There wasn't a lot of rebound action or second opportunities. Both goaltenders were playing big and taking away a lot of net, Penguins head coach John Hynes said.
On the ensuing power play, the Penguins went to work on the man advantage in textbook fashion.
Phil Dupuis won a battle for the puck along the half-wall and sent a pass to Simon Despres on the point. Despres ripped a slapshot that was tipped high by Riley Holzapfel while Paul Thompson posted in front of the crease, blocking Scrivens' view. The puck sailed into the net to give the Penguins a 2-1 lead.
I saw an open lane, closed my eyes and shot, Despres said. Paul Thompson was good in the net front, and I was just trying to get it to the net.
Holzapfel called the play simple but effective.
I just told Simon if you get the chance, shoot the puck. Whether or not I tip it or he scores or it's a rebound, it creates confusion out there.
For the first two periods, Zatkoff and Scrivens went save-for-save. Zatkoff made brilliant saves in the second period, including a quick stop on a Nazem Kadri slapshot right after a faceoff.
Scrivens did the same in the first period, including back-to-back stops on shots from Benn Ferriero and Bobby Farnham in front.
The goaltenders' duel continued into the third period when the scoreless tie made the stakes even higher.
It wasn't until midway through the period that both goaltenders briefly came back down to earth.
Zatkoff let up the first one when Acton skated into the low slot untouched, picked up a pass and placed a shot into the upper right corner for a 1-0 Toronto lead.
The way things were going, Hynes admitting to thinking the game might end with a 1-0 score.
There was a possibility, he said. (Toronto) deserved the goal. They were taking it to us and it was only a matter of time, it felt like, until they were going to get one.
The Penguins struck three minutes later when Ferriero jammed away at the puck while Scrivens tried in vain to cover it up. The puck slid out in front, where Despres picked it up and promptly lifted a backhander into the net to make it 1-1.
The goal was the second in the last two games for Despres, who was mired in a scoreless drought previously.
I was having nightmares, Despres joked about his lack of goals.
The win improves the Penguins to 10-7-0-0 and with one goal against Zatkoff has now allowed only eight tallies in eight games this month. For November, Zatkoff has a 0.99 goals against average and a .963 save percentage while winning seven of eight starts.
He's been very consistent and has made the saves when we needed him to at the right times, Hynes said.
Scoring – None. Penalties – WBS, Bortuzzo (elbowing) 6:42; TOR, Scrivens (interference) 8:11; WBS, Bortuzzo (holding) 10:51; TOR, Colborne (hooking) 19:52.
Scoring – None. Penalties – WBS, Farnham (cross-checking) 4:19; WBS, Tangradi (boarding) 14:26.
Scoring – 1. TOR, Will Acton 3 (D'Amingo, Scott) 6:56. 2. WBS, Simon Despres 2 (Ferriero, Bennett) 9:22. 3. WBS, Riley Holzapfel 5 (Despres, Dupuis) power play 17:11. Penalties – TOR, Deschamps (cross-checking) 16:11; TOR, Fraser (roughing) 16:11; WBS, Farnham (roughing) 16:11; WBS, Ferriero (interference) 18:10.
Shots on goal
Toronto – 9-13-10-32
Penguins – 11-7-7-25
Toronto – 0 of 5
Penguins – 1 of 3
Toronto – Ben Scrivens 5-6-0 (23 saves – 25 shots)
Penguins – Jeff Zatkoff 8-5-0 (31-32)
Referees – Jean Hebert, Jeffrey Smith. Linesmen – Scott Pomento, Jim Harper