|Photo edited by Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey|
Written by: Tony Androckitis - Twitter/Facebook
Editor's Note - Full coverage of tonight's Phantoms game against the Hershey Bears, live from the PPL Center in downtown Allentown, Pa!
- The puck drops at 7:05 p.m. ET, but make sure you're following along on Twitter -> @TonyAndrock and Facebook (like the Facebook page!) for all the latest updates and information.
ALLENTOWN - The wait is over.
The Lehigh Valley Phantoms begin their quest for the 2017 Calder Cup tonight, hosting the Hershey Bears in Game One of the Atlantic Division Semifinals at the PPL Center in downtown Allentown, Pa.
Puck drop is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. ET and fans attending tonight's game are encouraged to wear orange to support the Phantoms' "Orange Out" for the postseason. All fans attending Friday night's Game One will receive an orange rally towel which should help add to the playoff atmosphere in the Lehigh Valley.
After all, it's the franchise's first postseason contest since 2009 and the first for the Lehigh Valley franchise since relocating to Allentown for the start of the 2014-15 season.
After the jump, expected lineups for each team as well as the latest injury news/notes, five keys to the best-of-five series and a prediction for how the series will go.
LV: Alex Lyon (27-14-5, 2.74 GAA, .912 SV%, 4 SO)
HER: Pheonix Copley (26-11-3, 2.25 GAA, .924 SV%, 1 SO)
Roster Notes - Phantoms
Alex Lyon will get the start in net tonight for Lehigh Valley, making his pro playoff debut. Martin Ouellette is expected to back up Lyon in net, while Carter Hart isn't expected to see the ice during the postseason.
All quiet on the injury front at this time of the year, even more so than usual. Here's what we do know:
- Boyd Gordon has been out with a knee injury for over two and a half months. At this point, his season is over.
- Will O'Neill has not shut it down for the year. Injuring his wrist March 11th versus Utica, O'Neill was seen at practice this week without a cast on his wrist but instead a brace. He isn't skating with the team at practice just yet, but it working out off ice - seen running the stairs at PPL Center during both Tuesday's and Wednesday's practices. Perhaps O'Neill can return later down the road if Phantoms' postseason play allows it to happen.
- Anthony Stolarz has already been ruled out of the postseason, as his lower body injury required surgery. Head coach Scott Gordon put Stolarz's recovery time at "3-4 months but he'll be ready for training camp in the fall."
Max Lamarche appears to, for the time being, have nailed down the sixth defenseman spot on the depth chart. Reece Willcox and Lamarche had been rotating in the final month of the season, but Lamarche took all the reps with T.J. Brennan in practice this week as far as I saw.
Another highly-touted prospect joined the Phantoms Thursday with the news that defenseman Phil Myers was reassigned to Lehigh Valley earlier this week. While new arrival Carter Hart is not expected to see any playing time in this postseason run, Myers is a guy at 6-5 with good two-way skills that might find his way into the lineup at some point. Myers is expected to be scratched tonight, having just arrived to Allentown.
Steven Swavely, and not Radel Fazleev, looks to have locked down the fourth line center position entering the post season. Fazleev, along with Tyrell Goulbourne, were the extra forwards at practice on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Expected scratches: Anthony Stolarz (injured - out for year), Carter Hart (healthy), Will O'Neill (upper body since 3/11), Reece Willcox (healthy), Mark Friedman (healthy), Phil Myers (healthy), Tyrell Goulbourne (healthy), Radel Fazleev (healthy) and Boyd Gordon (lower body since 2/8)
Taylor Leier - Scott Laughton - Colin McDonald
Cole Bardreau - Andy Miele - Chris Conner
Greg Carey - Corban Knight - Danick Martel
Mark Zengerle - Steven Swavely - Nicolas Aube-Kubel
T.J. Brennan - Max Lamarche
Sam Morin - Mark Alt
Robert Hagg - Travis Sanheim
Alex Lyon - Martin Ouellette
Five keys to the best-of-five series
1. Ride The Rookies
Starting in net and working its way outward, a total of 13 Phantoms are expected to make their Calder Cup Playoffs debuts tonight in Game One. Not that the team lacks experience, but the strong play of the first and second year players has been the difference.
2. Led by Lyon
Specifically talking about first-year players, rookie goaltender Alex Lyon might be the most influential player to the Phantoms' playoff run. How long Lehigh Valley lasts in the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs likely depends on the play of Lyon in net.
3. Leier-Laughton-McDonald against Bourque-Boyd-Vrana
This is the prime match up to pay attention to while the Phantoms are at home & get the last change. Sam Morin and Mark Alt will be the shutdown pairing also responsible for keeping the Bears' top-heavy first line at bay. Can Leier-Laughton-McDonald spend more time in the offensive zone and make Hershey's offensive-minded forwards attempt to play defense?
4. Special Teams
You didn't think you'd make it through a 'keys to the series' without special teams being brought up, did you? Specifically speaking for the Hershey Bears - one of the most penalized teams in the Eastern Conference this season - how often they are shorthanded and how often the Phantoms' top-five ranked power play can convert will likely go a long way in deciding how this series plays out.
5. Experience versus Youth
The Hershey Bears have almost all of their key pieces from the roster that made the 2016 Calder Cup Finals, and have a long-standing healthy relationship with the AHL's postseason. Lehigh Valley will definitely have their blood pumping for tonight's Game One with the week-long nervous energy mounting.
Final words & prediction
This is a big moment for the Phantoms franchise in their relatively new home in Allentown. The years on years of annual disappointment and a lack of postseason play over the past eight years has been tough to watch. This group is aiming to turn things around and put the Phantoms back into a regular annual contender.
Series Prediction:. I just don't see any other possible outcome than this series between two of the hottest teams in the AHL entering the postseason can end without going the distance. Lehigh Valley wins the series 3-2.