CHARLOTTE, N.C. – After splitting the first two games of this series up in Allentown, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, and the Charlotte Checkers have arrived at the Bojangles’ Coliseum for game 3 of the Atlantic Division Finals. The Phantoms made four trips down to Charlotte during the regular season and went 1-3 and were outscored 17-10.
Yesterday, the Phantoms were given the news from the league that forward Nic Aube-Kubel has been suspended for three games after his hit that knocked Josiah Didier out for the rest of the game. Didier did not suit up in Tuesday night’s contest in Charlotte. It is the third time this season that Aube-Kubel has been suspended.
As for the netminders tonight, it was the same pairing as game 1, the battle of the Alex’s. Alex Lyon for Lehigh Valley and Alex Nedeljkovic for Charlotte. Lyon was given game 2 off after making 29 saves in game 1. It was the first time this season Lyon has faced Charlotte on the road after going up against them three times inside the PPL Center.
The Phantoms wanted to make sure Nedejkovic didn’t record back-to-back shutouts and on their second shot of the game, Mike Vecchione was in the right place at the right time as he would backhand in a deflection lighting the lamp off for his third goal of the playoffs.
Less than two minutes following the Vecchione goal, Danick Martel would skate past the Checkers defense and find the back of the net for his third goal of the playoffs. It was Martel’s first goal since game 1 of the first round series against Providence.
Late in the first Phantoms captain, Colin McDonald almost had his 10th career playoff goal but his momentum was pushing to the side opposite of the wide open net where Nedejkovic didn’t see him.
On the first power play of the night, the Checkers would get on the scoreboard thanks to Valentin Zykov. Entering the series, the Checkers were 1-for-17 on the power play. With this goal, Charlotte is now 5-for-9 on the power play in the series.
The one goal deficit for the Checkers didn’t last long as Chris Conner beat Nedejkovic from the top of the left circle giving Lehigh Valley a two-goal cushion once again. The Phantoms weren’t done in the middle frame, as on their first power play of the night, Oskar Lindblom would light the lamp to take most of the air out of the Checkers balloon.
The goal was enough for Checkers head coach Mike Vellucci, who pulled Nedeljkovic and replaced him with former Nashville Predators prospect Jeremy Smith for his first action of the playoffs. After a 26-save shutout performance in game 2, Nedeljkovic gave up four goals on 15 shots in tonight’s game.
Down three entering the third, the Checkers tried to give their fans something to cheer about as in the first four minutes they put up five shots, but Lyon would come huge, stopping them all.
On their third power play of the night, Charlotte thought they beat Lyon as Nicolas Roy’s shot did but defensemen Reece Willcox was in the right place at the right time kicking the puck away from the crease keeping the Phantoms up three. Charlotte would continue to come up dry in the final stanza as Lyon would commit some highway robbery with a huge glove save on Haydn Fleury.
With 3:20 to go in regulation, Greg Carey, fresh out of the penalty box, would find Lindblom, who fired one past Smith to further extend the Phantoms’ lead. When the final horn sounded, the Phantoms claimed game three by the score of 5-1. It was the first home loss for the Checkers since March 18. Lyon would come up big once again, making 34 saves and holding Charlotte to one goal for the second straight game. Lindblom finished with two goals on the night and now leads all Phantoms skaters with four goals so far.
The two teams will be back in action tonight for the second of three games at Bojangles Coliseum. Be sure to follow @SinBinPhantoms on twitter for live tweets throughout game 4.