River Rats stymied by Munroe, end season

The Albany River Rats are unable to solve Philadelphia goalie Scott Munroe are are ousted by the Pha

Albany River Rats goaltender Michael Leighton garnered plenty of headlines this season for his stellar work, but it was another goaltender — and the stingy defensive crew in front of him — that shut down the Rats’ season on Tuesday evening.

Philadelphia Phantoms netminder Scott Munroe stopped all 21 shots he faced to take a 2-0 decision in a fittingly goal-starved Game 7 finish to the Rats’ first-round playoff series at the Wachovia Center.

“It was a hard-fought series,” Rats head coach Tom Rowe said. “Unfortunately, we’re not going on. They are.”

Philadelphia advanced to the second round to meet the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The Penguins will host the first game of that series Thursday, but they will be without captain Nathan Smith, who was arrested for running naked in the street during a celebration Saturday night, and was suspended by the league.

As spectacular as Leighton, who stopped 28 of 30 Philadelphia shots, was in the postseason, his Philadelphia counterpart rebounded from a shaky Game 1 effort to spend much of the rest of the series trading saves with Leighton. Over the final 235:22 of play in the series, the Rats managed to beat Munroe for just one goal on 103 shots.

Leighton finished the series with a 1.18 goals-against average to go with his .968 save percentage. Munroe shut out the Rats twice in posting a 1.28 GAA and .952 save percentage.

Tuesday night saw the Rats come out on the short end in a back-and-forth series in which few goals were scored.

The series’ 23 combined goals set an AHL record for the fewest goals by both teams in a seven-game

series. The 1953 Cleveland-Pittsburgh series saw a combined 28 goals. The four shutouts in the series were the most for an AHL since the Rats and Rochester did so in 2000.

The Rats held the Phantoms to just 11 goals, the fewest allowed in AHL history by a club playing in a seven-game series. The Rats themselves managed a mere 12 goals against Philadelphia, including just eight over the final six games.

Playing in their first Game 7 since May 14, 1997, the Rats quickly found themselves in a hole against an aggressive Philadelphia forecheck. The Phantoms used a goal 22 seconds into the contest that put the Rats in catch-up mode nearly from the get-go.

Active for much of the series but unable to put capitalize on offensive chances, Philadelphia winger Stefan Ruzicka finally did so. Twenty-two seconds off the opening face-off, Ruzicka took a pass from Jared Ross, stepped into the left circle and placed a shot over Leighton’s left shoulder and under the crossbar.

“It’s not a goal you want to give up,” Leighton said. “It kind of kills any momentum that you thought you had.”

Rowe also conceded that the early deficit stymied the Rats.

“It’s tough,” he said. “Guys did things that they normally didn’t do, so that told me right away that guys were uptight.”

“The first period, I thought we were a little uptight, and didn’t handle the situation as well as I thought we could have. But you have to give Philly credit. They forechecked us hard. They played with a lot more poise.”

Over the remaining 59 minutes, Philadelphia then took away the middle of the ice and thwarted any serious offensive push from the Rats. When the Rats did manage to get pucks on net, the Philadelphia defense collapsed and suffocated Albany rebound pursuits.

“We were trying to make plays,” Rowe said. “We just couldn’t. I thought they did a better job of [collapsing the slot] than in any other game. Before [this game], we had some chances there. They really clamped down. There wasn’t any room for us to do anything there.”

Albany captain Pat Dwyer concurred.

“Their defense, they all crash down in front of the net,” he said. “Five guys in front of the net. They block a lot of shots, so it is hard to get the second efforts. But when we do, we’ve got to bury them, and we didn’t.”

Down, 1-0, late in the contest, Albany was forced to stray from its system and press for the tying goal. That allowed Philadelphia’s Ryan Potulny to break free, snap a right-circle shot past Leighton and put the Rats away with 1:27 left.

Albany 0 0 0 — 0

Philadelphia 1 0 1 — 2

First period — 1, Philadelphia, Ruzicka 1 (Ross, Kane), 0:22. Penalties — Rodney, Alb (holding), 5:46; Matsumoto, Phi (tripping), 7:11; Carson, Alb (cross-checking), 7:41; Ward, Alb (interference), 13:15.

Second Period — None. Penalties — Fitzpatrick, Phi (hooking); Greentree, Phi (holding), 13:15.

Third Period — 2, Philadelphia, Potulny 2 (unassisted), 18:33. Penalties — Jensen, Alb (elbowing), 7:36; Zingoni, Phi (holding), 12:23.

Shots on goal — Albany 6-10-5–21. Philadelphia 10-10-10–30

Goalies — Albany, Leighton 3-4 (30 shots-28 saves). Philadelphia,

Munroe 4-3 (21-21).

Power-play opportunities — Albany 0 of 3. Philadelphia 0 of 4.

A — 6,567. T — 2:11.

Referee — David Banfield. Linesmen — Leo Boylan, Scott Pomento.

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