TORONTO – The Toronto Marlies have returned for the third time in five years to the Eastern Conference Final. In total, they have made the AHL semifinal round four times, only once moving on to the Calder Cup final. This year they enter the Eastern Conference Final after sweeping their second-round opponent, giving the Marlies more time off.
The Lehigh Valley Phantoms have returned to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 2005. In total, this is the third trip to the conference finals for the Phantoms hockey franchise, and the previous two have resulted in a trip to the Calder Cup Final and eventually becoming Calder Cup champions. The Phantoms are coming off a series where they held the Charlotte Checkers – the AHL’s highest scoring team – to 10 goals Other than Charlotte scoring six in game two, Lehigh Valley held the high-powered Checkers offense to only one goal a game.
Final Regular Season Records
Toronto Marlies: 54-18-2-2,112 pts (first in North Division, first in Eastern Conference)
Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 47-19-5-5, 104 pts (first in Atlantic Division, second in Eastern Conference)
Eastern Conference Semifinals Results
Toronto Marlies: Eliminated Syracuse Crunch, 4-0.
Lehigh Valley Phantoms: Eliminated Charlotte Checkers, 4-1.
Game 1 – Saturday, May 19 – Lehigh Valley at TORONTO 4:00 pm ET
Game 2 – Sunday, May 20 – Lehigh Valley at TORONTO 4:00 pm ET
Game 3 – Wednesday, May 23 – Toronto at LEHIGH VALLEY 7:05 pm ET
Game 4 – Friday, May 25 – Toronto at LEHIGH VALLEY 7:05 pm ET
Game 5* – Saturday, May 26 – Toronto at LEHIGH VALLEY 7:05 pm ET
Game 6* – Monday, May 28 – Lehigh Valley at TORONTO 7:00 pm ET
Game 7* – Wednesday, May 30 – Lehigh Valley at TORONTO 7:00 pm ET
*=> If Necessary
Season Series Recap
These two teams only played twice in the regular season. The first time was November 5th when the Marlies beat the Phantoms 5-1 in Lehigh Valley. The second time was a very close affair on January 5th when the Marlies won 3-2 in a shootout. In those two games, all four goalies played. Calvin Pickard faced off versus Dustin Tokarski in the November affair, while Garret Sparks and Alex Lyon faced off in the shootout.
Two games are a small sample size to base a head-to-head series. Instead, we look at their round two matches. The Marlies won four straight, including two on the road to sweep their divisional final. The Phantoms also won four straight, with three on the road, to take their series, but the lost the opening game at home. It is clear that the two teams have a lot of offense and excellent netminders. This series is sure to be thrilling and will likely need all seven games to decide who moves on to the Calder Cup finals.
How the Marlies Win
The Marlies do not have a lot of experience at this level of the playoffs. However, they do have a lot of experience at winning. To keep that going and get them into the Calder Cup finals they are going to do what they did in Syracuse and score early and often. With this series being a 2-3-2 format, the Phantoms could win this at home if they win just one game in Toronto. With some fresh bodies called up from Orlando at the conclusion of the Solar Bears’ playoff run, the Marlies have a deep, well-rested roster. With Pickard picking up his first professional playoff win in Syracuse, the goaltending is some of the best in the postseason. Expect Sparks to start most or even all games to keep this Marlies squad focused on the end goal – the cup.
How the Phantoms Win
Lyon continues to play red hot. The last series against Charlotte, Lyon went 4-0 with a goals-against-average under one (0.73), and a save percentage of .978 while making 184 saves on 188 Charlotte shots including 94 in game four’s five-overtime thriller. Lehigh Valley will get a boost from the return of center Phil Varone. A 70-point scorer in the regular season, Varone’s return to the lineup will be a boon for the Phantoms offense. The league MVP has been out of the Phantoms lineup since game two of the team’s first-round series against the Providence Bruins and will provide a spark to the Atlantic Division champs.