Phantoms & Marlies: Top AHL Teams Clash

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms broke AHL records and moved into the Eastern Conference Final for the first time in 13 seasons. There, they will face the top team in the AHL during the regular season – the Toronto Marlies. The Eastern Conference Final will be just the third playoff meeting in the last 18 years between the AHL’s top two regular-season teams.

Radel Fazleev
Radel Fazleev. Photo Credits: Lehigh Valley Phantoms/JustSports Photography

The Phantoms were 0-1-1 in the contests against Toronto during the regular season. They lost 5-1 back in November at home, and 3-2 in a shootout in January in Toronto. The Phantoms won an AHL-best 27 home games this season while no AHL club had more road victories this year than the Marlies (30). This will be the fourth time in the Phantoms franchise history they will compete in the Eastern Conference Final, winning two out of the three times previously played. Following both of those wins, in 1998 and 2004, the Philadelphia Phantoms won the Calder Cup.

The Masked Men of the Series

Alex Lyon etched himself into the AHL history book with 94 saves in the longest game ever played in the league. His five-overtime victory in Game 4 against the Charlotte Checkers cemented the series. In the Charlotte series, Lyon had a 4-0 record with a 0.73 goals-against average and a .979 save percentage (4 GA on 188 shots).

The 25-year-old is a big reason for the Phantoms’ postseason success, stopping 303 of the 316 shots he has faced. Lyon has won six of the seven games he’s started. Dustin Tokarski has received the other two starts, but the veteran netminder will sit the pine going forward unless Lyon falters.

Garret Sparks has also been on fire for the Marlies, stopping 206 of the 224 shots faced in eight games played. The 24-year-old started the January game against Lehigh Valley and was victorious, stopping 33 of 35 shots and both shootout attempts. The AHL “vet” has now played in 18 postseason games with a 9-5 record and a .916 SV%.

Former Vegas Golden Knight Calvin Pickard is a capable backup who went 21-9-2 during the regular season with a 2.31 GAA and .918 SV%.

Skaters to Watch

Oskar Lindblom is a point-per-game player in his first Calder Cup run (seven points in seven games). The rookie has been a force on the man advantage with two of his four goals scored on the PP. Another player who has been lighting up the power play scoresheet is Greg Carey – the 30-goal scorer during the regular season has two power-play goals in the playoffs. The top line winger also has a team-high 24 shots on goal in nine games.

Alex Krushelnyski scored his first goal with the Phantoms in the January shootout loss to the Marlies. The 27-year-old also scored one of the most important goals in AHL history, ending the five-overtime game.

Dmytro Timashov only scored 13 goals in 67 games for the Marlies during the regular season. The fifth-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft already has five goals in nine games during the playoffs. The 21-year-old also chipped in two assists in the November win over Lehigh Valley.

Pierre Engvall was signed to an ATO by Toronto on Mar. 21 and proceeded to record eight points in his first nine AHL games played. The seventh-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft has followed that up with seven postseason points. The Swede is having a good showing and signed an entry-level contract this week.

The Prediction to Believe In

Scoring the first goal will be important in the series that features two tremendous goaltenders. The Phantoms are 5-0 this postseason when scoring the game’s first goal while the Marlies are 6-0. Both of these teams are deep – Toronto has 16 different goal scorers and the Phantoms have 13.

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

The Phantoms are getting healthy at the right time. Travis Sanheim looks to return in Game 1 and AHL MVP Phil Varone will return at some point. Those additions, plus the return of Nicolas Aube-Kubel from a three-game suspension, will give a boost to Lehigh Valley. The series will come down to goaltending.

Prediction: the magic run of Lyon will continue and the Phantoms will move onto the Calder Cup for the third time in their franchise’s history.