Last season, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms reached the AHL Playoffs, but had a much quicker exit than most expected.
That hasn’t been forgotten by the players who are around on this year’s playoff team and they’re determined to make this postseason a much longer experience. For veteran players and the organization as a whole, returning to the playoffs for a second straight season has a bigger meaning than just playing for a Calder Cup Championship.
The Phantoms believe that the road to the 2018 Calder Cup goes through the Lehigh Valley.
The team clinched a playoff berth with a 5-4, overtime loss at Providence which combined nicely with Bridgeport’s 4-1 loss at Syracuse to lock up their playoff ticket. This will be the 12th playoff appearance for the Phantoms, dating back to their days in Philadelphia, and second in a row as they look for their third Calder Cup championship.
New IronPigs manager Gary Jones made his first visit to the Lehigh Valley recently, but it somehow felt somewhat familiar to him. Jones last served in baseball as the third base coach of the Chicago Cubs, managed by Joe Maddon. The Cubs manager may be the most famous resident of Hazleton and Jones said that his old boss talked often about his hometown and the Lehigh Valley.
“He often talked about being home and how much he loved this area,” said Jones. “He talked about the people, how beautiful the area was. You could tell he had a special spot for this area.”
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.
If you think your weekends are busy, consider the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
This past weekend, they wrapped up the middle portion of three-straight, three-game weekends on their schedule. While it’s almost a foregone conclusion that the Phantoms will be playing playoff hockey this spring, nothing is official just yet. With 13 games left to play in the regular season, the Phantoms have dropped their magic number down to 12 after a productive weekend.
Imagine if you will this scenario.
Before the AHL season begins, you scour the Phantoms schedule and pick out a game to see against their rival, the Hershey Bears. It’s an early March game, so you figure the weather isn’t likely to be too bad and it could be a big game for both teams. As the season goes on, you notice that the Bears aren’t very good and the Phantoms are kicking their butts in head-to-head meetings. No problem, because you figure at least you’ll see a Phantoms win.
You’ve heard of trickle-down economics.
On Monday, it was trickle-down transactions for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The day brought with it the NHL trading deadline, which also brings the rule that states any player on the NHL roster when the deadline passes is not eligible to be returned to the AHL for the rest of the season. That put all eyes squarely on Flyers GM Ron Hextall to see just what he was going to do in an effort to improve the NHL team and how any moves would affect the Phantoms.
First, goalie Brian Elliott went on the injured list for the Flyers.
Then, on Saturday, Michal Neuvirth went down with an injury leaving the Flyers scrambling in goal.
Former Phantoms goalie Alex Lyon, who was replacing Elliott on the Flyers roster, played the rest of Saturday’s game with no backup. While there’s no good time for an injury, the fact that GM Ron Hextall still had a few days before the NHL trade deadline hit was somewhat of a silver lining.
As much fun as rivalries are, for them to be at their best, both teams have to be competitive. Unfortunately, the Hershey Bears haven’t upheld their end of that deal against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms this season. On Friday night, Lehigh Valley downed Hershey 5-1 to give themselves a perfect 5-0 mark against their Chocolatetown rivals. They also took their scoring advantage over Hershey to 26-10. The Bears have struggled against everybody this season, leaving them last in the Atlantic Division with a 19-25-3-4 record and just 45 points on the season.
You know that Monday morning feeling when you head into work and it takes you a while to get going? Especially if you had a few extra days off. The Phantoms had that look to them Friday night when they returned from the All-Star Break to face the Charlotte Checkers at the PPL Center. To be honest, both teams had that look as the game started off with a myriad of missed passes and turnovers. The Checkers even got a penalty for too many men on the ice in the opening minutes of the game.