HERSHEY, PA – Alex Lyon wasn’t expecting to start Sunday night when the Lehigh Valley Phantoms faced the Hershey Bears at GIANT Center.
An injury to Philadelphia Flyers netminder forced the parent club to recall Anthony Stolarz before the game. What Lehigh Valley wound up getting was the best start of Lyon’s young career.
Lyon stopped 35 shots, and Chris Conner, Reece Willcox and Will O’Neill (pictured) added goals as the Phantoms won their sixth straight.
The first period was a track meet. Both teams kept going back and forth, end to end. While there were no goals, there was more than enough action. The Phantoms’ got the game’s first chance when Jordan Weal was stopped on a breakaway by Vitek Vanecek.
Two minutes after that Hershey missed on a golden chance to tie the game when Nathan Walker fanned at the far post on a perfect cross-ice feed from Jakub Vrana.
Hershey had a great chance when Chris Bourque was stopped on a breakaway by Lyon after a turnover in the neutral zone.
Hershey’s best chance of the frame came with under a minute left while on the penalty kill. After a turnover, Paul Carey took a feed in the slot from Brad Malone in the crease and beat Lyon over the shoulder, but the puck found the crossbar. Shots in the period were 12-10 in favor of the visitors.
Hershey had power play at 2:10 of the second that they almost converted. Christian Djoos threw a slap pass on net that found Riley Barber at the edge of the crease. Despite three or four whacks, Barber was unable to shove it under Lyon.
Less than five minutes later, Lehigh Valley broke open the scoring on a goal-mouth scramble. Carey danced out from behind the net and jammed the puck on Vanecek, who went to his stomach as three or four guys kept jamming. Eventually, Hershey’s Darren Dietz kicked the puck into his own net. As the last Phantom to touch the puck, Chris Conner was credited with his third tally of the season.
Willcox made it 2-0 late in the period. Hershey’s Madison Bowey threw a puck up the near boards that Willcox intercepted and ripped a one-timer to the far corner over Vanecek. The lone assist on the play went to Nicolas Aube-Kubel.
Hershey cut the leads in half on a bizarre play 2:51 into the third. Paul Carey drove down the far wing and flipped a backhander on Lyon. The puck popped into the air, he lost track of it and it landed on the stick of Travis Boyd, who had an easy tap-in for his second of the season.
Hershey had a power play midway through the frame but was unable to convert despite a few great chances. Will O’Neill’s slapshot power play goal with 20 seconds left ensured a weekend sweep.
Impressions: This looked liked the back end of a three in three. If not for Lyon, this could have been a very different result. Not to take anything away from the goalie at the other end, because he was also fantastic. With Stolarz in Philadelphia, it’s going to be very interesting to see how he (Lyon) handles the pressure of being a No. 1 goalie. To his credit, he has shown no evidence that he’s going to crack. The next four to six weeks will determine the fate of Lehigh Valley’s season, in my eyes.
Notes: The scratches were the same as they had been all weekend. Robert Hagg and Andy Miele (both injured) as well as Tyrell Goulbourne (Healthy). With Stolarz getting recalled, The Phantoms are expected to recall Martin Ouelette from Reading (ECHL). In their six-game winning streak, The Phantoms have outscored their opponents 28-10.
★ – LV – Alex Lyon (35 Saves)
★★ – HER – Vitek Vanecek (28 Saves)
★★★ – LV – Reece Willcox (Goal)
Up Next: The Phantoms return home Wednesday for the first of 12 meetings with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at 7:05.