Lehigh Valley splits key series with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton
As the Lehigh Valley Phantoms prepared for a key home-and-home series against rival and division-leading Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, it was easy to spot the optimists from the pessimists.
The optimists looked back at last Wednesday’s 5-4 overtime loss to Syracuse and pointed to picking up a crucial point in the loss. The pessimists pointed to leaving a point on the table as the season starts to wind its way down toward what figures to be a pretty exciting conclusion.
In Friday night’s game, Lehigh Valley simply didn’t put forth the kind of effort that was expected against the Penguins and dropped a 4-1 decision on their home ice, dropping them to five points behind the division leaders. Fortunately, they returned the favor the following night with a 3-2 win that put them back to a three-point deficit in the division.
Max Lamarche rejoined the Phantoms last week from Reading after injuries to Robert Hagg and Will O’Neill left Lehigh Valley needing some help on the blue line. It would be Lamarche who would score first in Friday night’s game, collecting a pass from Mark Zengerle, and firing it past goalie Tristan Jarry for an early 1-0 lead. The goal came late on a power-play opportunity for Lehigh Valley.
The first goal they gave up to the Pens also came on a Phantoms power play on a poorly executed pass from goalie Alex Lyon to T.J. Brennan, giving the Penguins a good opportunity near the Phantoms net. Josh Archibald didn’t miss the opportunity and tied the game with a short-handed goal.
“I just tried to get it to T.J. and gave him a little bit of a grenade there, unfortunately. I thought it was the right play, (but it was) poor execution. It’s on me,” said Lyon after the loss.
“We had great execution on that play,” said Lamarche about the game’s first goal. “He (Zengerle) gave a great pass to me and I just put the puck on net, and that’s all.”
Unfortunately, Lehigh Valley wouldn’t get back on the board for the rest of the game, forcing them into something close to a must-win situation Saturday night on the road.
The Phantoms grabbed a 3-0 lead in that game and then seemed to rest on their laurels as Wilkes-Barre/Scranton closed the lead to 3-2 late in the third period. Lehigh Valley got a first-period goal from Tyrell Goulbourne, before Reece Willcox and Danick Martel scored goals just 15 seconds apart in the second period for the Phantoms.
The end result of the key weekend series is that the Phantoms are three points behind Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the division with 13 games left to play, four of which are against the Penguins. It’s worth noting that the Phantoms and Hershey Bears also have three games against each other. The Bears jumped over Providence in the standings and are just one point behind the Phantoms in the North Division. Lehigh Valley and Providence have just one game left with each other, and it’s the penultimate game of the regular season on April 14 at the PPL Center.
The magic number for Lehigh Valley to secure a playoff spot stands at 20 points.
ISN’T THAT SPECIAL? ... The Phantoms special teams have been credited with helping the team’s play over the past several weeks. Lehigh Valley has scored on power plays in 10 of their last 13 games, producing 15 goals. On the other side, Lehigh Valley has allowed just five goals on penalty-kill situations over the same span.
HE SHOOTS, HE SCORES! ... Lehigh Valley is second in the AHL in goals scored, with 227. In goals per game, the Phantoms lead the AHL with 3.59 gpg. Greg Carey leads the Phantoms, and is second in the league, in goals with 26, including a league-leading 17 power play goals. Brennan leads all AHL defenders in goals with 18 this season.