The Lehigh Valley Phantoms are in a bad spot. Down 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Final against the AHL’s number one team in the Toronto Marlies, they will need to win at least two of the next three games to stay alive in this series. Thankfully, the next three games are at home.
The Phantoms are 3-1 at home in these playoffs, and were 27-6-3-2 at home in the regular season. They had the best point-percentage at home in the AHL.
Home-ice advantage doesn’t matter as much when you’re playing the Marlies, though.
During the regular season, Toronto lost only five games in regulation on the road as well as one in overtime and two in the shootout. The Marlies finished with 12 more points away from home than the second-best road team, the Tucson Roadrunners. In their lone matchup in Allentown, the Phantoms lost to the Marlies, 5-1.
Needless to say, the Marlies play best on the road. Their home record is “only” good for 8th-best in the league. Not all is doom and gloom, however; the Phantoms had the best regular season home record, finishing five points ahead of the second-best Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
The players understand the importance of getting back in the series at the PPL Center, and their firepower is palpable. “We have three games at home,” forward Greg Carey said, “and we’re pretty deadly at home.”
Carey, who is pointless through the first two games after entering the series with seven points in nine games, said that the Phantoms know they have to play better to get back into the series. That’s true, but Marlies goaltender Garret Sparks has stolen the show on multiple occasions through Games 1 and 2.
I mean, come on.
And you can’t forget this glove save.
There are more where those came from.
Alex Lyon has had a few beautiful saves as well, but he just hasn’t played quite like Sparks has. That isn’t a knock on Lyon’s play. Sparks has singlehandedly kept the Phantoms from tying or even leading the series with some fantastic saves. Lyon looks a bit tired, and after entering the series with a 94-save performance in the longest game in AHL history in the second round and a .959 save percentage through the playoffs, it isn’t a surprise.
Still, the differences are miniscule. However, in a series between the two top-ranked teams in the league, minuscule differences will decide this series. Going down 3-0 will be mightily difficult to come back from. Only three teams in AHL history have completed a reverse sweep after falling to a 3-0 series deficit.
The third game of any series is the biggest game when a team is down 2-0. In fact, you can really say that about any normal game itself. The next goal in a 2-0 game will either make it exciting and manageable at 2-1, or procedural and out of reach at 3-0.
The Phantoms needs to capitalize on their chances to win Game 3 and make this series manageable.
Game 3 is tonight at 7:05 at the PPL Center.
Photo by Casey Liberatore/Sons of Penn