WILKES-BARRE TWP. — The first half of Wednesday’s game against the Springfield Thunderbirds didn’t go so well for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
But the second half couldn’t have gone much better.
After spotting Springfield a 3-1 lead, the Penguins scored five unanswered goals en route to a 6-3 win. Daniel Sprong had two goals, including the game-winner, while Andrey Pedan and Ryan Haggerty each added a goal an an assist. Shavertown’s Patrick McGrath also got on the scoresheet with an empty net tally — his first career goal at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
After enduring a four-game losing streak, the Penguins (15-7-1-1) have now won two straight. After Wednesday’s win, the Penguins remain in second place in the Atlantic Division, trailing the Providence Bruins.
The Penguins stumbled during the last five minutes of the first period. After gaining a 1-0 lead on a goal from Pedan, Springfield struck twice to take a 2-1 lead into the second period.
“We have to manage the puck and make sure our line changes are better,” said head coach Clark Donatelli. “We don’t want to get caught out there and extend our shifts.”
The Thunderbirds added to their lead when a deflected shot got by Casey DeSmith — who was making his first start since being reassigned by Pittsburgh on Tuesday — for a power-play goal, putting the Penguins down 3-1 midway through the second period. After that, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton got back to its game and back on the scoreboard.
Greg McKegg put home a rebound for his first goal with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, cutting Springfield’s lead to 3-2.
Thirty seconds later, Springfield’s Chase Balisy was called for hooking, and the Penguins took advantage of the ensuing power play.
With the puck in the Springfield end, Colin Smith dished a cross-ice pass to a wide open Sprong, who blasted a one-timer that ricocheted out of the back of the net for a 3-3 tie.
“I know Smitty can make that play. We were talking about it before the game,” Sprong said. “He made a great pass and there was an open net. Usually, I don’t miss those.”
The goal was Sprong’s fourth in his last five games.
The goals by McKegg and Sprong came just after power plays expired, but Donatelli said his team still took advantage of the opportunities.
“Even though they weren’t power-play goals, they came right after. It felt like a power-play goal,” he said.
Sprong gave the Penguins a 4-3 lead with his second tally, and 14th goal of the season, when he put home a rebound from a Garrett Wilson shot early in the third period.
“When he’s playing the right way, he’s getting chances,” Donatelli said of Sprong. “When he gets chances, he’ll get goals.”
Haggerty made it 5-3 when he wristed a Zach Aston-Reese pass into the net midway through the period.
With a minute remaining and the Springfield net empty for the extra attacker, McGrath chased the puck into the Thunderbirds end and forced a turnover before shooting the puck into the net. The goal was McGrath’s first of the season and sealed the 6-3 win.
“I’ve been waiting a long time to get that,” he said. “I kept the pressure on and the guy coughed it up. I couldn’t miss after that.”