The Philadelphia Flyers can be eliminated tonight, and the Reading Royals were swept and eliminated on Wednesday.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. The Lehigh Valley Phantoms begin their road to the Calder Cup tonight against the Providence Bruins in Game 1 of the best-of-five series.
The Phantoms finished first in the Atlantic Division, a place they had held for the majority of the season. They and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins were battling for the spot for a while, but the Phantoms began to pull away in late January. The Bruins finished fourth after a bit of a rocky ending to the season, going 5-5-0 in their last 10 games to lose third place to the Charlotte Checkers.
For the Phantoms, that’s probably for the best. The Checkers had the Phantoms’ number this season, going 4-4-0. Charlotte beat the Phantoms twice in the waning weeks of the season by a combined score of 9-2.
The Bruins have been a different story. Lehigh Valley has gone 4-1-1 against them this season and played them four times over the last four weeks of the regular season.
In head-to-head battles, Colin McDonald has been the leading scorer for the Phantoms with a goal and six assists for seven points in six games against Providence. That’s a surprising statistic, considering McDonald only recorded 25 points during the entire regular season. Greg Carey and Phil Varone lead the Phantoms in goals against the Bruins with four and three, respectively. That’s no surprise, considering Varone was named the AHL MVP and led the Phantoms with 70 points, 23 of them coming from goals. Carey finished first on the Phantoms with 31 goals, two behind Valentin Zykov’s league-leading 33 goals.
The Bruins have relied on Austin Czarnik mightily this season, but he hasn’t shown up in games against Lehigh Valley. He led the Bruins with 69 points, but only recorded two against the Phantoms. For Providence, it’s been Kenny Agostino and Peter Cehlarik who have provided the offense against the Phantoms. Agostino finished second on the Bruins with 53 points on the season and backed that number up with six points in five head-t0-head games. Cehlarik recorded five points in three games against Lehigh Valley, but he only recorded 23 points in 35 games all season.
Like McDonald, Cehlarik could be a wild card in this series. He has missed significant time this season due to injuries and hasn’t played since March 28, but the 22-year-old is set to play in Game 1 alongside Agostino, adding some lethalness to that line.
This is the best opportunity the Phantoms have had to win the Calder Cup since they last won it in the lockout season of 2004-05. It’s their second-straight season making the playoffs in Lehigh Valley. Last season, they were knocked out in five games by the Hershey Bears, which was a disappointing end to a great season.
Goaltender John Muse and forward Steven Swavely were called up from Reading following the Royals’ elimination to provide more depth to an already deep team. The goaltending trio of Muse, Alex Lyon, and Dustin Tokarski makes for one of, if not the, best goaltending situation in the playoffs. When the Flyers are eliminated, Travis Sanheim and Oskar Lindblom could be sent to Lehigh Valley to bolster their team even more.
So, how about the schedule? It’s a weird one. The Phantoms were able to choose what format they wanted for home games, and they chose for the first two games to be in Providence with the last three being in Allentown. The series starts on Friday night with Game 2 being played on Saturday. Then, they’ll wait six days for Game 3 next Friday in Allentown. Game 4 will be next Saturday, and if a fifth game is needed, it’ll be next Monday. That’s an odd schedule.
Here it is in list form.
Game 1 – Friday, 4/20 at Providence
Game 2 – Saturday, 4/21 at Provdience
Game 3 – Friday, 4/27 vs. Providence
*Game 4 – Saturday, 4/28 vs. Providence
*Game 5 – Sunday, 4/30 vs. Providence
Anything less than a deep run for the Phantoms will be a disappointment.
It all starts tonight at 7 p.m in Providence.
Photo by Heather Barry/Sons of Penn