February 22, 2018
By: Kristi Fulkerson
With a 6-4 win over Utica on Wednesday night, the Phantoms ended the Comets 16-game unbeaten streak (13-0-3) and extended theirs to nine games (8-0-1). Since the All-Star break, Lehigh Valley has earned 17 of a possible 20 points, winning 8 of 10 games played (8-1-1). They’ve also gotten several injured skaters back including centers Corban Knight and Mikhail Vorobyev, and winger Danick Martel.
Health will be key down the stretch for the orange and black. Last weekend the Phantoms played three games in three days and they had their full contingent of forwards available for the first time all season. By Monday however, rookie winger Oskar Lindblom was headed to Philadelphia to make his NHL debut in place of the injured Wayne Simmonds. The Flyers also lost both of their goaltenders in a matter of a week, prompting Alex Lyon’s recall (who earned his first NHL win Sunday) and a trade for Detroit’s Petr Mzrazek.
Wednesday’s win for the Phantoms was highlighted by a hat trick effort, courtesy of Phantoms veteran center Phil Varone, who now leads the AHL with 55 points (17 goals, 38 assists). Lehigh Valley has now played 55 of their 76-game regular season schedule and tops the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division with a 34-14-7 record.
The upcoming NHL Trade Deadline (Feb. 26, 3pm) has the potential to affect league rosters but it’s never too early to look ahead to the postseason. Today, the AHL released it’s first Calder Cup Playoff Primer (see below) and the Phantoms ‘Magic #’ is set at 30 — that’s the number of standings points needed to clinch a playoff berth. A team’s Magic # is reduced when it earns points or when the team with the highest possible title outside the playoff picture (currently Bridgeport in the Atlantic Division race) fails to earn standings points.
Through 55 games last season, Phantoms had a very similar record — 35-17-3 w/ 73 points— but ranked second in the division behind Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. This season, the roles are reversed as Lehigh Valley holds a slight edge over their in-state rival. The Penguins have played five less games and are winless in their last three. The two teams will meet one more time in the regular season finale April 14 at PPL Center.
In 2016-17 it took the Phantoms until April 12 (the third-to-last game of the season) to secure a playoff spot (their first berth since 2009). And lets just say the competition in the Atlantic Division is just as fierce as a year ago.