ALLENTOWN, PA- After getting shutout for the fourth time all season in their last contest, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms looked to keep their season alive as they were down 3-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Toronto Marlies. The Marlies were looking to advance to the Calder Cup Finals for only the second time in franchise history, while Lehigh Valley looked to extend their season to another day.
Back in Game Three Wednesday night, Phantoms goalie Alex Lyon was assessed a match penalty midway through the third period for kicking Mason Marchment while he was down in the crease. With Lyon kicked out of the game (no pun intended), Dustin Tokarski who has been riding the bench for most of the playoffs, came into the game cold and let in two quick goals to Marlies captain Ben Smith.
Many people were expecting Lyon to get suspended, but the league decided against that notion, allowing him to start in net for the Phantoms on Friday night. As for the Marlies, it was no surprise that Head Coach Sheldon Keefe went with the AHL goaltender of the year, Garrett Sparks, between the pipes. The Phantoms did make one change to their lineup, as Head Coach Scott Gordon chose to sit Mike Vecchione in preference of the five overtime hero Alex Krushelynski. Before the game, Coach Gordon said Vecchione was questionable for the night’s game. It was the first time since the Charlotte series that Krushelynski had appeared in the Lehigh lineup.
Through the first 20 minutes of play, the Phantoms defiantly brought the physicality which is something they lacked in the previous game. For the first time all series they prevented Toronto from scoring in the opening period. During the intermission, Assistant Coach Kerry Huffman mentioned that one thing they were going to drill into the players’ heads was to attack the ugly zone in front of the net. Throughout the first three games of the series, Sparks has faced an average of 27 shots per game, including only 16 in his last time out.
The second period didn’t start out as well as the Phantoms wanted, as the team was assessed back-to-back penalties less than three minutes into the frame. It only took the highly-powered Marlies seven seconds into their five-on-three advantage to find the scoreboard. The Phantoms postseason penalty kill struggles continued, as Toronto’s Andreas Johnsson extended his point streak to six games, finding twine for his fifth goal of the playoffs. The Phantoms would continue to play physical hockey in the second period which led to the Marlies getting away with some questionable no-calls much to the disagreement to the Lehigh fans in attendance, but the refs kept their whistle in their pockets for the time being. Lyon, who has made multiple big saves this postseason, came up huge once again as on a Colin Greening breakaway. The goaltender kicked the puck away keeping the Toronto lead only at one. On their first power play of the game, the Phantoms would finally beat Sparks, as captain Colin McDonald found Travis Sanheim skating up the slot with the ability to rocket one for his first goal of the postseason. Sanheim’s goal snapped Lehigh’s home shutout streak that lasted almost three weeks. It wasn’t until 156:54 that Travis was able to light the lamp.
Less than four minutes into the third the Marlies re-took the lead as the man with the hot stick this series, Johnsson, got the puck through the five-hole of Lyon to give Toronto the lead once again. With time winding down, Phil Myers was sent to the box for holding which visibly displeased Coach Gordon. Thankfully, Myers penalty did not come back to bite the Phantoms, as Lyon and his teammates’ penalty kill came up huge on possibly the teams’ biggest penalty kill of the season. With 41 seconds to go Trevor Moore would deliver the dagger to seal the deal for the Marlies.
When the final horn sounded the Toronto Marlies solidified their sweep of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms by the score of 3-1 and advance to the Calder Cup Finals.