Phantom’s Hoping Home Is Where the Wins Are

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms start their journey for the Calder Cup on Friday against the Providence Bruins. The Phantoms had the second-most wins (47) and second-most points (104) in the entire AHL. They won the franchise’s fifth division title, and the first since 2003-04 when they were playing in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Phantoms were also the last team to face the P-Bruins in a playoff series.

The 2005 Eastern Conference Final was won in six games by Philadelphia over Providence during their Calder Cup Championship run. That series was during the NHL lockout so featured players like Patrice Bergeron, Jeff Carter, Brad Boyes, Mike Richards and Providence was coached by current Phantoms coach Scott Gordon.

YouTube player

This season the Phantoms had a 4-1-1- record against their division rival, including going 3-0 at the PPL Center. They outscored the Bruins by a score of 19 to 16 but were outshot 191 to 179. On special teams, the Phantoms power play scored four times on 17 opportunities. They killed off 18 of the 20 times shorthanded. These teams are very familiar with each other as they played five games after Mar. 16.

The Phantoms That Made Plays

The Phantoms top two scorers played well against Providence this season. Phil Varone, who finished second in the league in scoring, had three goals and two assists on eight shots on goal playing in all six games. 31-goal scorer Greg Carey had four goals on 19 shots on goal in five games played against Providence. Lehigh Valley’s leading scorer against Providence this season was captain Colin McDonald. The veteran winger had one goal, six assists on 12 shots on goal and had points in five of the six games played.

Phil Varone Lehigh Valley Phantoms
Lehigh Valley Phantoms Phil Varone faces-off against Providence Bruins Jordan Szwarz.. (JustSports Photography)

The Bruins regular season leading scorer, Austin Czarnik, only had two assists and five shots on goal in six games played against Lehigh Valley. Kenny Agostino led the charge in the season series with one goal and five assists on ten shots on goal. Rookie forward Trent Frederic, who signed to an ATO on Mar. 13, chipped in two goals, five penalty minutes and five shots on goal in only four games played.

The Masked Men of the Series

All four Phantoms goalies played a game against Providence this season. Dustin Tokarski started three games in the series and had two shutouts. Overall the veteran netminder stopped 84 of the 89 shots he faced, and the only loss he incurred was a 5-4 overtime loss. Alex Lyon started the season inaugural matchup, back on Jan. 24, and stopped 30 of 32 shots in a 3-2 victory. Antony Stolarz only AHL game played this season was a 6-1 loss to Providence on Mar. 24.

The Bruins goalies, Zane McIntyre and Jordan Binnington, split the season series starts. Both goalies had a 1-2 record against Lehigh Valley. McIntyre stopped 79 of the 91 shots he faced while Binnington stopped 81 of the 87 shots he faced. Binnington’s two losses this season were in Tokarski’s shutout performances.

The Prediction to Believe In

Last season the Providence Bruins finished fourth in the Atlantic only to upset the top-seeded Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in dramatic fashion. The Bruins were down two games to one but came back to win the last two on the road. In that same postseason, the Phantoms were in their first postseason appearance in seven seasons. They lost the first two games at home but attempted their own comeback by winning the next two on the road. They ended up losing the series in Game 5 at the PPL Center.

Phil Varone Lehigh Valley Phantoms
Lehigh Valley Phantoms Phil Varone battles Providence Bruins Jakub Zboril.(JustSports Photography)

Last year’s experience for the Phantoms will be a valuable one as they will need to take care of home ice. The Phantoms led the AHL in home victories with 27 and closed the season on a seven-game home winning streak. Tokarski can be the key, as he has the experience winning the Calder Cup in 2012 and has good numbers against the Bruins this season. Though Lyon could also see time, as he was the starter for most of the season.

The best-of-five series begins with back-to-back games in Providence on Friday and Saturday and then shifts to Lehigh Valley for the final three games. It’s the franchises twelfth postseason appearances, and I predict they will win their first series since moving to Lehigh Valley.