The Lehigh Valley Phantoms are finally playoff bound for the first time since the 2008-2009 season, when they were still known as the Philadelphia Phantoms, and played their games at the Spectrum. They did themselves a huge favor last week, as they went undefeated, and ended their regular season with a four-game win streak overall. Not only that, but they also secured home ice advantage in the process, as well.
The wins did not come easy, but overcoming adversity once again further proved the high level of resiliency that the Phantoms have displayed this season, which is always important if a team wishes to make a deep playoff run.
Let’s take a look at last week’s action:
LEHIGH VALLEY PHANTOMS (48-23-5)
Date: Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Score: Phantoms 2 | Penguins 1 (SO)
Wilkes-Barre, PA: The Phantoms began their week back on Wednesday night, still looking to clinch a playoff berth, but facing a major obstacle in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to get there. The team needed just 1 standings point, but had not scored a goal against the Penguins in the last three meetings, so they had their work cut out for them.
Luckily, the Phantoms were able to score a goal late, to send it to overtime, and then eventually win it in a shootout.
Despite plenty of action both ways, neither team was able to get on the board until the third period, as it was a goaltending duel. Anthony Stolarz started the game, but tweaked an injury after saving the only shot he faced 1:32 into the game. It was later revealed that Stolarz would need surgery, thus he would miss the remainder of the season, and the playoffs.
Alex Lyon stopped 33 of the 34 shots he faced the remainder of the game, and then all three Penguins shooters in the shootout.
Taylor Leier scored the tying goal with just under seven minutes remaining in the game, and the Phantoms were officially playoff bound, as soon as the game went into overtime. They even made matters better by winning in the shootout, giving them one more standings point to attempt to clinch home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Corban Knight was the only scorer in the shootout, as the Phantoms went 1/2 and the Penguins went 0/3.
Game highlights via the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins:
Date: Friday, April 14, 2017
Score:Bruins 4 | Phantoms 5 (OT)
Allentown, PA: The Phantoms headed into their Friday night match with the Providence Bruins looking to clinch home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, needing a win of any type to clinch, as the Bruins were the team directly behind them in the standings. It looked like the Phantoms were down and out in this one, but their resiliency proved otherwise, and they triumphed in a wild 5-4 comeback victory in overtime.
Scott Laughton (1 goal, 1 assist) got the Phantoms on the board first, just 31 seconds into the game, but the Bruins would respond with 4 straight goals over the next 20 minutes of gameplay to take a decisive 4-1 lead into the third period.
Colin McDonald converted midway through the third period to make it a 4-2 game late, but the Phantoms needed a miracle to even tie the game.
Well, the miracle was delivered, as the Phantoms pulled their goaltender for the extra attacker, and scored two goals in a period of 30 seconds to turn a 4-2 Bruins lead with just over a minute left to go, into a 4-4 tie with about 30 seconds left.
Knight, who scored the shootout winner two nights before, was the overtime hero in this one, as he scored the game winning goal just 48 seconds into overtime.
T.J. Brennan led the way for the Phantoms with three assists, and Andy Miele (1 goal, 1 assist) and Travis Sanheim (2 assists) matched Laughton’s two-point night. to contribute well offensively. Greg Carey scored a goal for the Phantoms in this one, as well.
Lyon received the start in net, but he was pulled just 1:18 into the second period after allowing 4 goals on 14 shots against. He was replaced in net by Martin Ouellette, who stopped all 18 shots he faced.
Game highlights via the Lehigh Valley Phantoms:
Date: Saturday, April 15, 2017
Score: Phantoms 4 | Senators 1
Binghamton, NY: The Phantoms finished off their regular season on Saturday night by traveling up I-81 to face the Binghamton Senators one last time, and they came away with a decisive 4-1 victory.
The Phantoms sat several key players in this one, allowing Mark Friedman to finally make his professional debut. The defenseman posted one assist in his debut.
Laughton had another multi-point game, scoring a goal and adding an assist, as did Leier (1 goal, 1 assist), and Knight (2 assists). Miele and Danick Martel also scored goals for the Phantoms in this game.
Ouellette received the start in net, stopping a very respectable 45 of the 46 shots he faced. In his call-ups to the Phantoms this season, Ouellette stood strong in net, stopping 90 of the 93 shots he faced in four different games, for a save percentage of 96.8% and a GAA of just 1.06.
- T.J. Brennan (21 G, 39 A for 60 points in 76 games)
- Andy Miele (13 G, 44 A for 57 points in 65 games)
- Chris Conner (22 G, 34 A for 56 points in 70 games)
The Phantoms will look to keep up this momentum, as they begin their playoff series against the Hershey Bears on Friday night in the friendly confines of the PPL Center. The teams will also face off at the PPL Center on Saturday night, before the best-of-five series shifts to Hershey next week.
Although the timing of the Stolarz injury was very poor, especially for Stolarz himself, the Phantoms have had some great goaltending down the stretch from Lyon, and also Ouellette, when called upon, and will receive another boost in net, as well.
The Flyers announced yesterday that goaltender Carter Hart has been loaned to the Phantoms for their playoff run, as his playoff run with the Everett Silvertips was ended over the weekend. Hart is eligible to play in the AHL on loan only because his season in the WHL has ended.
Next season, he will either have to make the Flyers roster directly out of camp, or be loaned back to Everett, due to his age. He will have just turned 19 at the beginning of next season. Although Hart displays promising skill in the WHL, it is a long shot that he would make the Flyers roster next season, but we may be able to get a glimpse of how he handles tougher competition in the AHL during this playoff season, if he is called upon.
Let’s wish the Phantoms the best of luck in their first playoff run in eight seasons! They certainly have the depth to be able to make a solid case for the Calder Cup this season.
If you can, I would highly recommend going to a game in Allentown, or even a road game in Hershey (as it is really not that much further geographically from the Philadelphia area), to support the Phantoms on their playoff run. More information on ticket purchasing can be found on the Phantoms’ website.Follow @Brian_Sloane