Without NAHL leading scorer Samuel Solensky, the Johnstown Tomahawks looked like a much more vulnerable team. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights took advantage of the weakness at times and nearly capitalized with a win, but fell just short in overtime, 2-1 at 1st Summit Arena Friday night. Alex Wilkins fired home the breakaway shot on Zach Stejskal at the 3:53 mark.
Johnstown improves to 32-5, while Wilkes-Barre picks up a critical standings point and now sit 13-20-3. They will enter Saturday out of a playoff spot by just one point.
After an evenly fought scoreless battle in the first, the Tomahawks were able to send their top ranked power play to the ice for five minutes. Behind the play, Knights forward Adrian Danchenko got called down for a major and game misconduct for high sticking on Alex Wilkins of the Tomahawks. Wilkins remained down on the ice and appeared cut, giving Danchenko a premature end to his night.
The Tomahawks managed just one goal with 1:05 to go in the power play, as Oliver Benwell redirected a point shot from Carson Briere in front to get Johnstown on the board. The goal came an even seven minutes into the middle frame. Later in the period, Lincoln Hatten would start the battle for the Knights. Hatten dropped the gloves with Chad Merrill with under five minutes to play in the period, attempting to spark his teammates.
Hatten’s efforts paid off less than three minutes later, with Zak Currie tapping home his fifth of the year to tie the score. Defenseman Evan Orr first shot the puck onto Johnstown goalie Carter McPhail from the left point, where Currie would find it in the blue paint. Anthony Mastromonica was credited an assist, along with Orr.
Having been outshot 12-8 in the second, Johnstown found their legs in the final frame, pushing to get the game finished in 60 minutes. Though a 17-5 shot differential would usually help that cause, Zach Stejskal was able to man his crease and keep the Knights alive. Stejskal finished the game with 35 saves. His counterpart, McPhail, had 24 stops.
With the game heading to three-on-three overtime, the Knights were a goal away from not only beating the league’s best team, but also being just the second team to do so as the visitors at Johnstown. The Tomahawks have lost just once at home this season. That was their home opener on October 5th.
Overtime featured little opportunities for either team, with a mostly structured and cycled game taking play on the ice. It wasn’t until a loose puck in the Knights offensive zone leaked out to center for a rushing Alex Wilkins, who beat Stejskal on the breakaway to end the game. Oddly enough, Wilkins was the same player cut by Danchenko, which resulted in the Tomahawks power play goal earlier in the contest. You could say he gets credit for starting and finishing this one for the NAHL’s frontrunner.
The clubs rematch Saturday night at 7pm.