Phantoms, Checkers looks to be a very even series
The series win over Providence in the semifinals of the Atlantic Division playoffs was the first for the Phantoms franchise since their days of playing on the same ice that the Philadelphia Flyers played on at the Spectrum in Philadelphia.
It came in the same year where their next-door neighbors, the Philadelphia Phillies, last won the World Series - 2008.
Since that series, the team relocated to Adirondack and finally wound up in Allentown. Now, they look to reach another pinnacle and get past the second round of the AHL playoffs which they haven’t done since 2005. That season ended pretty well for the Philadelphia Phantoms as noted by the Calder Cup Championship banner now hanging in the PPL Center.
Starting Friday, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms look to win the Atlantic Division portion of the playoffs when they open a best-of-seven series against the Charlotte Checkers in Allentown. With home-ice advantage, the first two and last two games – if necessary – will be played at the friendly confines of the PPL Center where the Phantoms finished the regular season 27-6-3-2, the best home record in the AHL. Overall, Lehigh Valley was 47-19-5-5 this season second to only the Toronto Marlies (54-18-2-2).
The Marlies are a potential playoff opponent for the Eastern Conference title, but that’s getting ahead of where the Phantoms are right now as they prepare for their series with the Checkers.
Charlotte ran a hot streak late in the season to not just clinch a playoff spot, but edge Providence for the third spot in the Atlantic Division putting them into a first round meeting with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton instead of with the Phantoms. That worked out well for Charlotte, who swept the Pens in three games to advance to play the Phantoms.
During the regular season, Charlotte and LV split their eight meetings with the two teams going back-and-forth for wins in the first four games of their season series before Lehigh Valley won two straight only to have Charlotte finish off the series with wins in the last two games, both of which were in Charlotte. The Checkers outscored Lehigh Valley 28-22 in goals in their eight meetings.
The season stats for the two teams are eerily close. Charlotte outscored the Phantoms 262-260 and allowed fewer goals with a 212-218 edge. One stat that may play a big role in the series is who can take an early advantage in the games. Both teams are pretty even when they’re leading or tied after the first period, but Charlotte hasn’t been able to come from behind as effectively as the Phantoms have. When trailing after the first 20 minutes, Charlotte is 10-15-0-1 on the season, while the Phantoms went 11-8-1-1.
While both teams are good, there’s no denying that the Checkers have played the better hockey late in the season. Including their first-round playoff games, Charlotte has lost just once to Lehigh Valley in its last 13 games. The Phantoms have lost six of their last 14 games. Charlotte also played well at home this season going 26-11-0-1 at the Bojangles Center.
If either team is looking for an advantage on the road, they won’t find it. Both teams won 20 of their 38 road games this season.
CHANGE IN DIRECTION ... Having the Phantoms in the postseason for the second straight season is a dividend of a general shift in the Flyers philosophy. In years past, the franchise viewed prospects generally as a commodity to be traded at the deadline to add to the NHL roster during a playoff hunt. Now, the Flyers management is gearing their success toward developing more talent of their own.
LYON LIKELY ... While head coach Scott Gordon hasn’t made anything official, it’s likely that Alex Lyon remains in goal for Lehigh Valley. Dustin Tokarski made one start against Providence in the Friday night game at home, but Lyon started each of the three other games. In the series finale with the Bruins, Lyon saved 49 of 52 shots by Providence.
UNSUNG HERO ... Reece Wilcox hasn’t gotten the credit he deserves for his play against the Bruins. In the four games, Wilcox led the team with a plus-five rating. The defenseman added an assist in the last game of the series.