Phantoms top Admirals

DAVID W. UNKLE -- Special to SLAM! Sports

, Last Updated: 7:27 AM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- Playing on the checking line is the equivalent of being a tackle or guard in professional football.

Your name won't appear in the box score but if you don't bring your "A" game, it mostly likely will be a driving force in your team's losing effort.

The names of Eric Meloche, Todd Fedoruk, and Boyd Kane won't be found in the scoring summary. Yet their combined efforts are a big reason the Philadelphia Phantoms find themselves with a 1-0 lead in their East Division Semifinals with the Norfolk Admirals.

The troika held Norfolk's big line of Matt Ellison, Rene Bourque, and Matt Keith to one goal and six shots, as the Phantoms toppled the Admirals, 3-1 in front of 5,158 fans at the Wachovia Center.

Meloche, a top-line player throughout his AHL career with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, has assumed less-heralded role with the Phantoms.

"It's definitely different," said Meloche, who signed as a free agent with the Phantoms in the off-season.

"All of the top lines in this league are pretty much NHL lines," said Meloche.

"Guys like Patrice Bergeron and Jason Spezza, we took it to all those big names this season."

Phantoms' head coach John Stevens talked about how Meloche, Fedoruk, and Kane responded to the challenge.

"They played with a lot of energy and they were physical."

The key, Stevens added, was that "they played with a lot of discipline."

Norfolk grabbed their only goal of the game less than a minute into the middle stanza when Rene Bourque knocked home a shot from Marty Wilford on the power play.

Phantoms' goaltender, Antero Niittymaki, shut the door on the Admirals the rest of the way, in earning his fourth win in as many starts.

After Ben Stafford netted the equalizer at 9:40 of the second, John Slaney blasted a feed from Patrick Sharp for the game-winner less than two minutes later.

"The pass from Sharpie was pretty hard and I was just hoping to knock it down," said Slaney.

"I was lucky enough to get the shot into the net."

Jon Sim, the Phantoms' hired gun on offense, continued to have the hot hand, scoring an insurance goal to close out the third period.

Stationed at the side of the net, Sim caught Ads goalie, Craig Anderson out of position as R.J. Umberger's blast rebounded onto his stick.

Sim one-timed the puck into the far corner as the Phantoms scored for the second time with the man advantage.

Niittymaki stopped 29 of 30 shots and has allowed only four goals in his last four starts.

Anderson stopped 30 of the 33 shots he faced while suffering his fourth loss in as many starts.

The Phantoms know how their deck is stacked.

Sim, rookie R.J. Umberger, and Patrick Sharp can be counted on for offense.

Slaney, Dennis Seidenberg, and Joni Pitkanen are the Phantoms' top three defensemen, who also figure in on the scoring on most nights.

But if the Phantoms are going to come out of the Eastern Conference, it will be because of the play of the three players that face the opposition's best.

"If that's what I need to do to be around here, than that's what I'll do," said Meloche.

A true sign that Meloche has adapted well to his role was his assessment of his regular season performance.

"Minus-1 (in plus/minus in the regular season) doing my job, I'll take that anytime"

The Phantoms square off on Saturday against the Admirals before heading to Norfolk for Games 3, 4, and 5.

David W. Unkle is a freelance sports writer and frequent contributor to SLAM! Sports. His work appears on several news outlets along with hosting The Topcat Sports Show in the Philadelphia market. David can be contacted via the Show's website at http://www.topcatsports.org or topcatsports@canoemail.com.


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