Monday's Catch Up & Links 4/3

Monday, April 3, 2017
Photo: Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey
Phantoms closing in on ending Flyers AHL affiliate's seven-year playoff drought

Written by: Tony Androckitis - Twitter/Facebook

The final two weeks of the American Hockey League's (AHL) 2016-17 regular season should provide plenty of exciting matchups as teams continue to battle for postseason seeding.

In the Eastern Conference, there are five teams in each division still eligible to qualify for the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs.

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins were the first team in the East to clinch a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division, leaving four teams - Lehigh Valley, Providence, Bridgeport and Hershey - battling for the three other playoff seeds in the division.

After the jump, a look at the Atlantic Division's playoff race as well as the weekly Phantoms player report, a look back at last week's games and looking ahead to the team's three games this week.

Atlantic Division Playoff Picture

Standings through 4/3's games

X - 1. W-B/Scranton: 6 games remaining, 47-19-4, 98 points (.700 PCT)
2. Phantoms: 6 games remaining, 44-22-4, 92 points (.657 PCT)
3. Providence: 6 games remaining, 41-20-9, 91 points (.650 PCT)
4. Bridgeport: 6 games remaining, 42-24-4, 88 points (.629 PCT)
5. Hershey: 5 games remaining, 38-22-11, 87 points (.613 PCT)

6. Springfield: 6 games remaining, 29-30-11, 69 points (.493 PCT)
7. Hartford: 6 games remaining, 23-41-6, 52 points (.371 PCT)

Phantoms' Playoff Update

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms are still in a good position to end the Flyers' minor-league playoff drought of seven straight years without the AHL affiliate qualifying for the Calder Cup Playoffs. 

Despite losing two of their three games last weekend, Sunday's regulation win in Hershey - the current fifth place team int he Atlantic Division - lowered the Phantoms' necessary points to clinch a playoff spot to six points with six games remaining entering this week. In fact, a regulation win Wednesday in the rematch against Hershey and two more points in any fashion in the final five games would be enough to guarantee the Phantoms a spot in the postseason.

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms' magic number to clinch a berth in the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs is currently at 6 points. You can also keep track of the playoff races in the AHL's daily Playoff Primer.

Phantoms' Team Report

While some injured players returned to the Phantoms' lineup last week, call ups diminished some depth on the AHL roster for the team's three-game weekend.

With Anthony Stolarz recalled to Philadelphia just prior to Saturday's game in Wilkes-Barre, Alex Lyon  got the start in net for Lehigh Valley both Saturday night and again on Sunday in Hershey. Martin Ouellette served as Lyon's backup with Anthony Stolarz recalled to the NHL.

Nicolas Aube-Kubel returned to the Phantoms' lineup after sitting out Saturday's game in Wilkes-Barre as a healthy scratch. Chris McCarthy was scratched to make room for Aube-Kubel up front.

Captain Colin McDonald was recalled by Philadelphia after Friday night's loss to Bridgeport. At the latest, McDonald (likely along with Jordan Weal) will be assigned to Lehigh Valley upon the completion of the Flyers' season.

Chris Conner (upper body) returned after a five-game injury absence in Friday's game. Greg Carey (undisclosed) returned Saturday in Wilkes-Barre after a two-game injury absence.

Reece Willcox was reassigned to ECHL Reading prior this weekend's games. With the Royals at home this past weekend and within driving distance, it was best to allow Willcox to play rather than sit out of the AHL lineup. Willcox was returned to the Phantoms Monday according to ECHL transactions.

The latest injury news comes in the form of an update on defenseman Will O'Neill's injury he sustained early in the 1st period of Saturday's 4-1 win against Utica on March 11th. O'Neill was seen sporting a cast on his left wrist at the team's annual team photo day earlier this week - a sign he's going to be out longer term. Let's put him in the four-to-six week range, meaning he can hopefully get healthy for the postseason.

The Philadelphia Flyers signed their 2014-3rd round draft pick, defenseman Mark Friedman, to an entry level contract beginning in the 2017-18 season. The former Bowling Green State Univeristy product, who tallied 26 points (eight goals, 18 assists) in 40 games this season in the WCHA, joined the Phantoms on a tryout contract for the remainder of the season. He skated in the team's warmup skate against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Saturday night, but has yet to appear in his first pro game.

Boyd Gordon, who left in a Wednesday home game against Binghamton after a sliding BSens' forward crunched into his legs in the corner boards, was initially expected to miss a few weeks with a knee injury. He was seen at a recent Phantoms game in Allentown walking with a knee brace over his suit pants. His season and a potential return to the lineup remain in the balance.

Injured list: Will O'Neill (upper body since 3/11 vs. UTI) and Boyd Gordon (lower body since 2/8)

Lines from Sunday's Game

Taylor Leier - Scott Laughton - Cole Bardreau
Greg Carey - Andy Miele - Chris Conner
Danick Martel - Corban Knight - Mark Zengerle
Tyrell Goulbourne - Radel Fazleev - Nicolas Aube-Kubel

T.J. Brennan - Robert Hagg
Sam Morin - Mark Alt
Travis Sanheim - Max Lamarche

Alex Lyon - Martin Ouellette

Scratches: Will O'Neill (upper body since 3/11), Chris McCarthy (healthy), Boyd Gordon (lower body since 2/8) and Mark Friedman (healthy)

The Week Ahead

Wednesday, April 5th: Hershey at Lehigh Valley - 7:05 p.m. ET

Friday , April 7th: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at Lehigh Valley - 7:05 p.m. ET

Saturday, April 8th: Springfield at Lehigh Valley - 7:05 p.m. ET

Weekly Wrap Up

Last Week

Friday, March 31st: Bridgeport - 3 at Lehigh Valley - 1 (GAME STORY)

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms didn't give much for their home fans at PPL Center to cheer about Friday night in the team's fan appreciation night game against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

A disappointing 3-1 regulation loss in a game where a Phantoms' win would have put the Sound Tigers' playoff chances on the ropes sets up a pair of tough road contests in back-to-back nights in Wilkes-Barre and Hershey for Lehigh Valley, who squandered a chance to inch closer to clinching a playoff spot of their own.

"We have to clean things up back there. Stolarz bailed us out a couple of times," Phantoms' assistant coach Riley Cote told TV2Sports' Kristi Fulkerson after the 1st period in a between periods TV interview.

"They're a hard working team, but we aren't playing the way we need to play," Colin McDonald said in response to Fulkerson's question between the second and third periods.

For whatever reason tonight, the Phantoms did not match the desperation and intensity from a Bridgeport Sound Tigers team that entered Friday night's game on the outside looking in in the Atlantic Division playoff picture.

Colin McDonald scored the lone Phantoms' goal, and the home team got a strong performance in net from Anthony Stolarz (34 saves) but it wasn't enough as the Sound Tigers' hard work and desperation paid off.

Saturday, April 1st: W-B/Scranton - 3 at Lehigh Valley - 0 (GAME STORY)

Just 24 hours after the Lehigh Valley Phantoms' lackluster performance at home in a 3-1 loss to Bridgeport Friday night, the Philadelphia Flyers' top minor league affiliate was in Wilkes-Barre for a chance at redemption against the Atlantic Division-leading Penguins.

And just 24 hours after not matching their opponents' desperation and intensity on home ice, the Phantoms followed it up with another going through the motions kind of performance against their bitter intrastate rival in a 3-0 shutout loss - their second shutout loss at the hands of the Penguins in the last two Saturday night contests.

There isn't anyone in the Phantoms' locker room hitting the panic button, but they aren't shying away from the fact that they didn't heed the message from Friday night's loss and need to be dialed in for Sunday's game in Hershey.

Sunday, April 2nd: Lehigh Valley - 4 at Hershey - 2 (GAME STORY)

After a disappointing start to the three game weekend for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms - a pair of regulation losses to Bridgeport Friday and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton - had the Philadelphia Flyers' top minor league affiliate starting to feel the pressure of closing out the franchise's first ever Calder Cup Playoff berth in Allentown, a Sunday evening game against a similar recently struggling Hershey Bears team was just what the doctor ordered.

T.J. Brennan said after Saturday night's shutout loss in Wilkes-Barre that the effort simply wasn't there. They hadn't matched their opposition's desperation and intensity, and as such were 0-2 on the weekend heading into Sunday's tilt at Giant Center.

The veterans, sans captain Colin McDonald currently in the NHL with the Flyers, stepped up and let their play do the talking in a 4-2 win that sees the Phantoms' magic number drop down to six points with six games remaining on their 2016-17 regular season schedule.

Former Hershey Bears forward Chris Conner led the way for Lehigh Valley offensively, tallying a hat trick and adding an assist. Greg Carey tallied his career high 27th goal of the season and added an assist in the win, while Alex Lyon stopped 32 of 34 shots for his 25th win of the season.

The Phantoms are back in action Wednesday night at home against Hershey and with another regulation win can cut the magic number to close out a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division to two points.


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