Phantoms Move On To The Atlantic Division Semi-Finals

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms are headed to the Atlantic Division Semifinal round of the Calder Cup Playoffs after sweeping the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the best-of-three preliminary round.  The Phantoms won 2-1 at Mohican Sun Arena at Casey Plaza on Wednesday and 5-4 in overtime at the PPL Center in Allentown on Friday.

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Game 1: Phantoms 2 – Penguins 1

The Phantoms grabbed the game’s first goal at 14:37 of the first period. From a tight angle at the bottom of the left circle, Adam Brooks (1st goal of the playoffs) beat Joel Blomqvist to the short side. The goal was replayed before it counted on the scoreboard. The assists went to Adam Ginning and Louie Belpedio.

The Phantoms dominated most of the second period. Lehigh Valley got the frame off to a great start as a persistent play near the net by Rhett Gardner (1st) eventually produced a 2-0 lead for the Phantoms. The assists went to Belpedio (the second of the game) and Cooper Marody.

Lehigh Valley knocked on the door repeatedly, but they were unable to build a three-goal lead. The Phantoms repeatedly generated clean breakouts from the defensive zone, established a strong forecheck-up ice, and showed good puck support.

A mid-second period power play for the Phantoms went awry and temporarily stalled Lehigh Valley’s momentum. The lone scoring chance was a shorthanded opportunity for the Baby Pens’ Corey Andovovski.

The Phantoms started to take control again. However, at 18:16, Ville Koivunen (1st) redirected the puck past Cal Petersen and into the net to narrow the deficit to 2-1. The lone assist went to Sam Poulin.

Lehigh Valley did a strong closeout job in the third period to protect the one-goal lead. Petersen made nine of his 21 saves in the game during the third period. In a losing cause, Joel Blomqvist made 10 saves in the third period to finish with 30 saves on 32 shots.

Game 2: Phantoms 5 – Penguins 4 (OT)

During the regular season, the Baby Pens were one of the AHL’s tightest-checking teams but a modest-scoring club. The book on defeating Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was that playing from ahead was a near-must because WBS was a tough team (second only to Hershey) against whom to chase the game.

The Phantoms were able to play from ahead in the first game. In Game 2, they had no such good fortune — trailing by scores of 1-0, 3-1, and 4-3 — but refused to quit. Three Lehigh Valley power play goals spurred the comebacks that helped force overtime.

WBS controlled the majority of the first period. The Phantoms got themselves into penalty trouble — an issue that continued into the middle frame of regulation — and the Baby Pens had the bulk of the good scoring chances. The Phantoms were fortunate to get out of the first period with a manageable 1-0 deficit. At 2:17, Valtteri Puustinen (1st) deflected a Jack Rathbone shot past Petersen for the game’s first goal.

In the second period, the Phantoms started to attack more frequently but continued to stall their momentum with penalties.  Finally, at 9:19, Lehigh Valley drew even with a power play goal as Ronnie Attard (1st) ripped home a second-chance one-timer from the top of the left circle. The assists went to Victor Mete and Gardner.

The Phantoms’ penalty issues finally caught up to them at 14:06 of the second period. On the fifth WBS power play of the game, Radim Zahorna (1st) put the Penguins ahead by a 2-1 score. The goal was assisted by Vinnie Hinostroza and Puustinen.

WBS added another goal before the end of the second period. At 17:58, Rathbone (1st) established a 3-1 edge, assisted by Koivunen and Hinostroza.

Early in the third period, the Phantoms struggled to generate chances. They had a virtual must-score 5-on-3 power play opportunity midway through the period.

At 12:15, rookie defenseman Emil Andrae (1st) delivered a two-man advantage goal with a wrister from the left dot. The assists went to Marody and Olle Lycksell. During the remaining 5-on-4 time, at the 12:37 mark, the Phantoms forged a 3-3 deadlock. Tanner Laczynski (1st) redirected a Bobby Brink shot/pass into the net past Blomqvist. The assists went to Brink and Andrae.

With the PPL Center crowd in a frenzy, the Phantoms had yet another power play but were unable to cash in. When play went back to 5-on-5, Zahorna (2nd) scored a rebound goal off an initial WBS rush.  The assists went to Puustinen and Hinostroza at 16:12. 

A scrum broke out after Zahorna scored. Puustinen and Phantoms defenseman Adam Ginning received coincidental minor penalties. The teams skated 4-on-4 with 3:38 left in regulation. 

The Phantoms were in the process of getting Petersen to the bench in favor of an extra attacker. That was rendered unnecessary at 16:46. Laczynski cut laterally across the bottom of the left circle and sniped a shot over Blomqvist for his second goal of the period and a 4-4 tie on the scoreboard. The assists went to Belpedio and Lycksell.

Dolans Wiffleball 2024
Dolans Wiffleball 2024

Moving On

Last year, with a chance to close out their first-round playoff series, the Phantoms played a marathon Game 2 in their playoff series against Charlotte. The Checkers prevailed with roughly two minutes remaining in the second overtime. Charlotte won Game 3 and the series the next evening. 

This time around, the suspense ended early and went the Phantoms’ way.  At 2:11 of sudden death overtime, Jacob Gaucher (1st) stashed home a Brendan Furry rebound to end the game and the series. The secondary assist went to Bepedio for his fourth helper in the two-game set.

Petersen finished with 24 saves on 28 shots in Game 2. Blomqvist stopped 29 of 34 shots. The Phantoms were 3-for-6 on the power play. The Penguins were 1-for-5.

The Phantoms’ lineup in the second game featured only one change from the opener. Speedy rookie J.R. Avon returned to the lineup, while Evan Polei existed. What’s next: Phantoms vs. Bears In the best-of-five second round, the Phantoms will play the Hershey Bears. 

Matt Bednarczyk
Matt Bednarczyk

Matt Bednarczyk is your host of Talking Philly Sports With Matty B. He is a proud retired US Army Sergeant First Class, he is also a combat veteran with over 80 months served in Afganistan, and Iraq . Huge Hockey Fan. Matt is a lifelong 4 for 4 Philly sports fan. Born and raised on the Mayfair and Tacony neighborhood lines of Northeast Philly. He brings over 40 years of Philadelphia Sports passion and provides a realistic look at our Major Sports Teams and the most passionate sports fans on the planet. Look for his show live on Edge of Philly Sports.