The final weekend of the AHL regular season is upon us and the playoff picture is almost set. While Lehigh Valley is already in the playoffs, Providence is still trying to clinch their spot for a chance at the Calder Cup. These last two games are not meaningless for the Phantoms though; they are only 2 points ahead of the Bruins and obviously want the higher seed.
The first period started off with an immediate goal for the Phantoms that was deflected in front by Scott Laughton coming off a point shot from Lamarche. No less than 20 seconds later, Phantoms forward Corban Knight was called for tripping, and that sent the Bruins on the power play. Providence capitalized 35 seconds into the PP on a low wrist shot that made its way past Alex Lyon’s pad. Nic Aube-Kubel took a bad holding-the-stick penalty that put the Bruins on the PP yet again which was converted into a goal in less than 30 seconds.
Much of the first 5 minutes of the period was spent in the Phantoms zone. No matter how hard the defense tried, they barely get any offense going aside from the quick goal. Lehigh Valley quickly adjusted and started to go on the attack much more even though it was mostly spent passing the puck around the boards and not creating many scoring chances.
Chris Conner was sprung for a breakaway on Zane McIntyre but was immediately hooked by Alex Grant while shooting. The resulting Phantoms power play was killed by the Bruins but not before a few good scoring chances. Another penalty was called on the Bruins for hooking; this time the offender was Peter Mueller. The #2 ranked PK of the Bruins went to work on both defense and offense by having more shots than the Phantoms on that penalty.
Apparently, Providence has no problem taking and killing penalties. Matt Grzelcyk was called for hooking quickly following the past penalty. While on the PK, Jake DeBrusk and company had no issues scoring a shorthanded goal on Alex Lyon to make it a 3-1 lead on only 9 shots.
It’s almost like the Bruins think they perform better when shorthanded; another penalty was called on Austin Czarnik but was nullified with a cross-checking call on T.J. Brennan 30 seconds later. Neither team had any issues taking care of their respective penalty kills. Although the Bruins were trailing on the shot board for most of the 1st period, they definitely dominated play with 3 goals.
Scott Gordon must have gone off in the locker room during the intermission because the Phantoms came out into the second period hitting everything in sight and spending the first minute of play in the offensive zone. Gordon’s talk must have not been enough because Jake DeBrusk made a cross-crease pass while on his stomach to get the puck over to Chris Porter for an easy tip-in on Lyon. Gordon made a goaltending change that brought in Ouellette from the bench.
Lehigh Valley dominated the first 10 minutes of the period and was able to create a good amount of offensive zone production after the Providence goal. Point shots and rounding the puck around the boards was their method to create pressure behind and in front of the net. After the Phantoms initial offensive production, the pace of play seemed to speed up tremendously with both teams trying the dump-and-chase method. After whistles, play started to get very scrappy between the teams mostly triggered by the Phantoms trying to change momentum. As a result of one of the scraps, Providence took their first penalty of the 2nd period on an interference call on Peter Cehlarik. As usual, the Bruins took care of the penalty with ease by limiting Lehigh Valley’s zone entry to a minimum.
The after-whistle scraps continued but the refs decided they had enough and sent Cole Bardreau to the box for roughing. Providence was sent on the power play and had some nice offensive pressure but ultimately could not score.
The start of the 3rd period began with Providence playing keep away in the offensive zone, forcing the Phantoms to defend Ouellette from a barrage of shots that were getting through. Of the minimal times that the Phantoms had gotten the puck out of the neutral zone, it had resulted in an immediate turnover.Lehigh Valley eventually got it together and started creating some offensive pressure like they were in the second period. The eventual pressure worked for the Phantoms as Colin McDonald slid the puck past McIntyre during his net front presence.
Lehigh Valley eventually got it together and started creating some offensive pressure like they were in the second period. The eventual pressure worked for the Phantoms as Colin McDonald slid the puck past McIntyre during his net-front presence.
Chris Conner was awarded a penalty shot after being tripped on a breakaway which he backhanded through the legs of McIntyre but wide of the crease. That penalty shot must have sparked the team because, for almost the rest of the game, Lehigh Valley turned into an offensive juggernaut that created shots and chances but could not score on the best statistical goaltender in the league. A holding penalty sent the Phantoms on their last power play of the game that they did not score on, but Greg Carey did manage to score with the goaltender pulled just before the last minute of play announcement. In one of the most exciting endings I’ve ever seen, just 30 seconds after the previous goal, Andy Miele sniped a hard wrist shot into the net to tie the game 4-4 and send it into overtime.
Overtime started with more immediate offensive pressure by the Phantoms. After some defensive blunders by the Bruins that left two of their players on their knees, Corban Knight had the puck hit his skate and slide through McIntyre for the game winner. Knight sent the Phantoms off the ice in one of the most exciting wins of to clinch home-ice advantage in the playoffs.
FINAL: Lehigh Valley 5-4 OT
SHOTS: Lehigh Valley 37-32
- Anthony Stolarz will be out for the playoffs after he was injured in the beginning of the previous game and later diagnosed with an LBI.
- Lehigh Valley will be headed to the Calder Cup Playoffs after taking their previous game to overtime against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
- Providence can clinch a playoff spot tonight with a win against the Phantoms, or a Bridgeport loss. Bridgeport lost, so the Bruins clinched either the 3rd or 4th spot in the Atlantic.
- Martin Ouellette may not be able to help his ECHL team, the Reading Royals, as he was called up to the AHL after the Phantoms previous game.
- Providence is the #2 ranked PK in the league. As seen from games against the Penguins, scoring on the power play is crucial for the Phantoms.
With the Phantoms win tonight, they have clinched home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, which is only 5 games. That home-ice advantage is a great thing even though they have more road wins than home wins this season. They will play the winner of the Bruins – Hershey Bears game on Saturday in the first round of the playoffs. Alex Lyon has been pulled mid-game in his last 3 starts against the Bruins, but it sounds like Scott Gordon will let him play in the series even if it is against the Bruins.
Andrew Ostrosky is a writer and the Lehigh Valley Phantoms reporter for Good Night, Good Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @HockeyGuyFromSL.