After losing twice last weekend to the Providence Bruins, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms got back to their winning ways by defeating the Bruins on Friday and the Belleville Senators on Saturday. Already having clinched a playoff berth, the Phantoms can clinch first place in the Atlantic Division this week.
Dustin Tokarski backstopped the Phantoms to a shutout on Friday and only allowed two goals on Saturday in back-t0-back starts. Greg Carey scored twice this weekend, raising his goal total to 30. Carey’s goalscoring is second in the AHL behind Valentin Zykov’s 32 goals. Mike Vecchione recorded a goal and an assist on Saturday, giving him 38 points this season.
Friday, Mar. 30th vs. Providence Bruins (2-0 win)
The Phantoms had lost to the Providence Bruins in the last two games, but they reversed the result on Friday, beating the Bruins, 2-0.
The Phantoms didn’t score until the second period. Off a faceoff win to the right of Jordan Binnington, Will O’Neill passed the puck to Greg Carey, and Carey blasted a slap shot by Binnington to give the Phantoms a 1-0 lead.
The Phantoms absolutely dominated the second period, outshooting the Bruins by a count of 19-1. Providence was on their heels, but Binnington made several strong saves to keep the game at 1-0.
In the third period, the Phantoms scored with just under three minutes left to put the game away. Colin McDonald carried the puck on an odd-man rush and found T.J. Brennan trailing. Brennan wristed the puck by Binnington for the goal.
The Bruins had one last shot to get on the scoreboard when Phil Varone was handed a double-minor for high sticking, but Dustin Tokarski stood tall. The Phantoms won, 2-0.
Tokarski saved all 22 shots en route to his fifth shutout of the season.
Saturday, Mar. 31st vs. Belleville Senators (4-2 win)
The next night, the Phantoms faced a new opponent for the first time in two weeks. They beat the Belleville Senators, 4-2.
Greg Carey opened the scoring, just like he did the previous night. After making a sweeping move in the neutral zone, Carey snapped the puck from the left circle. It squeaked through Marcus Hogberg’s glove to make it 1-0. Newcomer David Drake, who had just signed an ATO with the Phantoms, recorded his first career point with the primary assist.
In the second period, the Phantoms recorded two more goals. Colin McDonald scored on the power play to make it 2-0 on a goal that never should’ve happened. He slid the puck on goal, and it seemed to ramp up over Hogberg and into the back of the net.
Mike Vecchione scored with six seconds left in the period to make it 3-0. After Ville Pokka lost his balance at the blue line, Vecchione poked it away and led a two-on-one. He decided to shoot, and Hogberg’s positioning opened a hole on the left side. Vecchione took advantage of that, and that was the last shot Hogberg would see before being pulled for Filip Gustavsson.
The Senators scored twice within two minutes in the third period to make it a 3-2 game. Dustin Tokarski was screened on the first goal from Jordan Murray, and T.J. Brennan couldn’t clear the crease on the second goal from Jack Rodewald. Although the Senators started to pressure the Phantoms, Cole Bardreau iced the game with an empty-netter, and the Phantoms won their second-straight game, 4-2.
Tokarski made 27 saves on 29 shots. Vecchione recorded two points.
Stars of the Week
Dustin Tokarski saved 22 of 22 shots on Friday to shutout the Providence Bruins and earned the First Star award. On Saturday, he saved 27 of 29 shots against the Belleville Senators in a 4-2 Phantoms win. This season, Tokarski has appeared in 36 games and has a record of 19-7-6 with a .914 save percentage. His five shutouts ties an AHL single-season high for him, set in the 2011-12 season with the Norfolk Admirals. Tokarski has played the most games in goal for the Phantoms this season, which will probably surprise many. He’s been a rock in Lehigh Valley around all the goaltending transactions in the Flyers’ minor league system.
Greg Carey scored twice this weekend, once in each game. On Friday, he scored the first goal of the Phantoms’ 2-0 win over Providence and earned the Third Star. On Saturday, he scored the first goal again and earned the Second Star. Carey now has 30 goals this season and is two behind Valentin Zykov in the AHL goalscoring race. Zykov is currently playing with the Carolina Hurricanes in the NHL, so Carey has an opportunity to take the lead. Nick Lappin also has 30 goals, but since Carey has more points, Lappin is technically behind Carey.
Mike Vecchione had a goal and an assist on Saturday against Belleville and earned the First Star. He is fifth on the Phantoms in goals, assists, and points with 16, 22, and 38, respectively. After the Flyers moved up to second in the Draft and took Nolan Patrick last offseason, Vecchione’s fate with the Flyers was practically sealed; there was no room for him in Philadelphia this season. It was Vecchione’s first weekend in action in three weeks. He’s played extremely well with Lehigh Valley and could snatch a spot in the Flyers’ lineup come training camp in September.
Goaltender John Muse was reassigned to the Reading Royals last week before being called back up to Lehigh Valley on Sunday. Alex Lyon was sent down to Lehigh Valley after Michal Neuvirth came back from an injury, but after Neuvirth re-injured himself a period-and-a-half into the Philadelphia Flyers’ game against Colorado, Lyon was called back up to Philadelphia on emergency conditions.
Felix Sandstrom was signed to a three-year, entry-level deal by the Flyers last week and was originally going to stay in Europe for the remainder of the season. However, he was signed to a PTO by the Phantoms and backed up Dustin Tokarksi on Saturday.
David Drake, the Flyers’ seventh round pick in 2013, was signed to an ATO by the Phantoms. Drake, a defenseman, recorded 25 points over four seasons with University of Connecticut. He served as UConn’s alternate captain in his junior and senior years.
Forward Steven Swavely was reassigned to the Royals, and defenseman Frank Hora was recalled to the Phantoms. Swavely has split the season with the Royals and Phantoms, while Hora has spent the majority of his season with Reading.
The Phantoms can clinch first place this week. The maximum number of points that the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins can get this season is 102, and they have seven games remaining. The Phantoms currently have 97 points with six games remaining. The magic number to clinch first is six; in that case, the Phantoms would have 103 points. However, this Phantoms have a commanding lead over the Penguins in the tiebreaker, which is the same as the NHL (regulation and overtime wins). The Phantoms have 42 ROW versus the Penguins’ 36 ROW. The Providence Bruins are in third with 87 points, seven games remaining, and 35 ROW. Even if they surpass the Penguins, the most either of those two teams can get is 102 point, so the magic number would continue to drop for the Phantoms.
This could be another pretty good week in the Valley.
- Tuesday, 4/3 at Charlotte Checkers
- Wednesday, 4/4 at Charlotte Checkers
- Saturday, 4/7 at Hartford Wolf Pack
- Sunday, 4/8 at Providence Bruins
Photo by Casey Liberatore/Sons of Penn