Catasauqua Press

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Phantoms have the playoffs on their mind

Wednesday, March 21, 2018 by chuck hixson Special to the Press in Sports

Playoffs? We’re talking about playoffs?

Yeah, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms are talking about playoffs. After a shootout loss in Hartford Friday night, Lehigh Valley welcomed Providence to town Saturday night. The Bruins stand third in the Atlantic Division and would seem to have a pretty good grip on a playoff spot, but certainly don’t want to make any assumptions.

For the Phantoms Phil Varone, Saturday night, which ended with the Phantoms picking up a 3-0 win behind 33 saves by Dustin Tokarski, was the first time this season that the team really felt that they were in a playoff-type game.

“To be honest, this is the first game coming down the stretch that I thought felt like a playoff game,” said Varone, who scored an unassisted goal for his 20th score of the season. “They’re a really good team with lots of skill and we had a lot of energy tonight and tonight felt like a playoff game.”

Varone’s goal put the Phantoms up 2-0, with both goals being short-handed goals. Radel Fazleev scored the first short-handed goal of the night just past the halfway mark of the second period to put the Phantoms up 1-0. Later in the game, Steven Swavely notched his third goal of the season.

The Phantoms have done two things especially well this season; kill penalties and get quality goaltending.

“Special teams had a good night for us,” said Tokarski, who has three shutouts in his last eight starts for Lehigh Valley. “If you can turn PKs [penalty kills] into points, that always helps. The PK has been very good the last couple months for us and that’s been important.”

Coach Scott Gordon was pleased that the Phantoms killed off all five penalties that they had in the game and came away with points in two of those situations. While Tokarski believes that his play is the best it has been all season, Gordon believes that both he and fellow goalie John Muse have been strong in every situation and will be important to the team in the postseason.

Even though the Phantoms lead the Atlantic Division, their performance Friday night in Hartford was best described as uninspired. That outing left Gordon concerned about how his team would respond over the final month of the season.

“I felt like we were just going to ride it out here for a little bit and that was something that we discussed this morning and the players responded,” said Gordon. “We need to have strong penalty killing and we played hard, so I can live with some of those penalties because they’re not lazy penalties, they come from being aggressive. Both goalies have played really well and we can’t say that our goalies don’t give us a chance to win every night. Nobody gets by without good goaltending and they’ve both been good all season. Dustin played really well tonight and came up with some big saves that kept it a scoreless game and that really frustrates an opposing team.”

ABRACADABRA ... The Phantoms picked up five points in the standings over the weekend and when you combine those points with Bridgeport’s loss on Sunday, Lehigh Valley now has a magic number of just three points. Bridgeport is currently on the outside looking in for a playoff spot and Lehigh Valley’s tough play has been able to reduce the magic number quickly over the past couple weeks.

YOU AGAIN? ... Quite frankly, Lehigh Valley and Providence are likely to get tired of each other. After their Saturday night game, they meet again Friday and Saturday, with both games in Providence. They meet again the following Friday at the PPL Center and then play again April 8th back in Providence. In other words, the Phantoms next three games and four of their next eight games are against the Bruins, with just one of those battles being on their home ice.

YOU KNOW THE WAY BACK, RIGHT? ... Reading native Steven Swavely has become very familiar with Route 222 through the Lehigh Valley. The 26-year old has traveled the road a lot this season as he’s been bounced back-and-forth between the Phantoms and the Reading Royals. He was last recalled by Lehigh Valley on Saturday and scored that night against the Bruins before being shipped back to the Royals on Monday.