CHARLOTTE, N.C. – After bouncing back with a statement victory less than 24 hours ago, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms were back inside the Bojangles Coliseum to take on the Charlotte Checkers in game four on Wednesday night. Little did we know the game would end in the wee hours of Thursday morning, making it the longest AHL marathon ever.
“That was pretty crazy, right?,” asked Checkers head coach Mike Vellucci. “We out-shot them 2-1 and out-chanced them 2-1, so what are you going to do? You give it all you’ve got, and their goalie played absolutely unbelievable and Ned (Alex Nedeljkovic) played really well for us. Guys were gassed, you saw it. It was pretty crazy. I don’t even know how many overtimes we went. They gave it all they had, so that’s all you could ask.”
Before the game, Phantoms announcer Bob Rotruck announced league MVP Phil Varone could return to the Lehigh Valley lineup as early as Saturday for game five. Varone didn’t travel with the team to Charlotte, as he’s been in Voorhees, New Jersey receiving treatment for an undisclosed injury he sustained back in game two of the Phantoms’ first-round series against Providence.
As for the netminders in the game, it was the battle of the Alex’s for the third time this series. Alex Lyon for Lehigh Valley and Alex Nedeljkovic for the Checkers. In game three, Nedeljkovic was pulled midway through the second after giving up four goals on 15 shots. On the other side of the ice, Alex Lyon was outstanding in game three, stopping 34 shots, including all 19 he faced in the final period.
Through the first seven-and-a-half minutes of the game, both teams were fighting to find the scoreboard but both goalies came up strong keeping the game scoreless for the team being With 5:24 to go in the first another injury was added to the Phantoms list as Sam Morin was down on the ice. He was assisted off the ice with athletic trainer Brian Grogesky leaving Lehigh Valley with five defensemen for the rest of the night. Less than two minutes after losing Morin, the Phantoms would strike as T.J. Brennan‘s shot went wide left leaving Danick Martel to clean up the mess, banking it in off the boards for his fourth goal of the playoffs.
The Checkers were buzzing through the first seven minutes of the second period, but Alex Lyon was coming up huge stopping pretty much everything. With 13:08 to go in the second and momentum mostly on their side, Checkers captain Patrick Brown would pick up his first goal of the playoffs. That would be the only time in the second where Charlotte was able to light the lamp as Lyon came up huge making big saves one after another. On the other end of the tape, Nedeljkovic basically took the second period off as he only saw five shots. In six of the 11 periods up to this point in the series, the Phantoms have put up less than 10 shots.
Near the halfway mark of the third, where the mentality of next goal wins kicks in, the Checkers almost scored took a 2-1 lead. Oskar Lindblom had a bad turnover from the blue line which sent Charlotte in on a 2-on-1 rush. Lyon came up huge, though, to keep the game deadlocked at one. With 7:34 to go in the third on one of their few scoring chances since the first Alex Krushelynski tried to go backhander on Nedeljkovic, who matched Lyon’s big save earlier with one of his own, flashing the glove to prevent the puck from hitting twine. Both goalies were spot on in the third which meant overtime was needed to settle this one. It was the second overtime for both teams in these playoffs and each team is 1-0 in the extra frame.
Charlotte almost ended the game less than 90 seconds into the first overtime but Alex Lyon once again made a huge save to keep the game going. There was a cause for concern for Phantoms fans when Oskar Lindblom was skating to the bench limping thinking it was an injury. Luckily, all it was is he lost the blades to one of his skates and he was back on the ice for his next shift. With fatigue showing on both sides, one overtime wasn’t enough to settle game 4 so, it was off to a second overtime.
During double overtime, it was announced that both of the AHL Western Conference playoff games ended before the conclusion of game four between the Phantoms and Checkers, which started an hour before both of those games. Also in the double overtime, Charlotte pressed hard to get the game-winner, putting 15 shots on Lyon in period number five.
In the third overtime, both teams had chances on the power play, but Lyon and Nedeljkovic continued their showdown, making save after save as the game moved to a fourth overtime. In the second and third overtimes, Lehigh Valley was outshot 27-6.
It was also during this period that the contest became the longest in the AHL this season, besting the Rockford/Chicago triple overtime game on April 26 that lasted 117:22.
There was no scoring in the fourth overtime so, for the second time in AHL history, a fifth overtime period was required. With 17:01 left in the fifth overtime, the fans who remained at Bojangles’ Coliseum let out a loud cheer. Many in the building were well-aware that the two teams had passed the record for the longest game in AHL history. Interestingly, the Philadelphia & Carolina franchises hooked up for the second-longest overtime game in league history ten years ago, when the Philadelphia Phantoms beat the Albany River Rats 3-2 after playing 82:58 of overtime hockey.
With history having been achieved, it was time to put an end to the game. With 13:12 left in the fifth overtime, Colin McDonald won the puck in the right corner and connected with an open Cole Bardreau behind the net who found Krushlenyski open in the slot for the one-timer past the blocker of Nedeljkovic thus triggering an exuberant celebration from the overjoyed Phantoms.
After 6 hours of hockey, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms took game four of the Atlantic Division Finals by the score of 2-1 and now have a 3-1 lead in the series. Lyon made 94 saves in the victory and held Charlotte scoreless for the final 119:56 of the contest.
The two teams will get a pair of much needed days off before game 5 Saturday night in Charlotte.