CHARLOTTE, NC – For the first time in their tenure in Allentown as the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, the Flyers AHL affiliate invaded Bojangles Coliseum in Charlotte, North Carolina to take on the Charlotte Checkers. In a game that ended up being a high scoring affair between the top two goal producing teams in the Eastern Conference, the Phantoms would wind up with the victory by a final of 6-3. The path to that victory would not be as easy as the score would suggest.
Lehigh Valley would get started red hot, with Nic Aube-Kubel giving his team the lead just 21 seconds into the game. Aube-Kubel sent a shot from in front of the Charlotte net wide and off the end boards but ended up having the puck give a friendly bounce back to his stick. His momentum brought him to the side of the cage, but he was able to bank a shot off the right pad of Checkers goalie Alex Nedeljkovic and in to open the scoring. Corban Knight would get the lone assist on the goal.
The Phantoms would extend their lead to 2-0 just three minutes into the game, with Danick Martel finally getting off his scoreless slump. Martel had not scored in weeks heading into Tuesday nights contest, but he was able to beat Nedeljkovic on a one-timer from the top of the left circle for his 15th goal on the season, which still leads the AHL, despite the layoff. Knight added another assist on Martel’s goal, giving him two points on the night. TJ Brennan would add the other. Lehigh Valley had two goals on their first two shots of the game to start off the night.
Everything seemed to be going the Phantoms way, with the ice completely tilted in their favor. Then, at the 5:08 mark, Julien Gauthier got through the Phantoms defense and in on Dustin Tokarski. Gauthier roofed a backhander above Tokarski’s blocker sidearm and cut the Phantoms lead to one. The rest of the period was all downhill from there.
A minute after the Gauthier goal, and with Charlotte pressing to try to tie the game, Greg Carey got called for hooking and put the Phantoms down a man. Lehigh Valley’s Achilles’ heel all season has proven to be their penalty kill, and it was on display again Tuesday. Off the Carey penalty, just 50 seconds into the man advantage, Trevor Carrick unloaded a one-time shot from the point that found its way to the twine.
Not even 30 seconds later, Radel Fazleev took a tripping call and put the Phantoms down again. Carrick again created a play, blasting a slap shot from the same spot at the point he scored from, but this time the puck got deflected in the high slot by Andrew Poturalski, giving Charlotte the lead. The two power-play goals came just 59 seconds apart, giving the Checkers a 3-2 lead after trailing 2-0 just three minutes in. The goal also spelled the end of the night for Tokarski, who gave up three goals on just seven shots in 8:46 of work. John Muse, who happens to hold the Checkers franchise single-season wins record (27 in 2014-15) came on in relief of Tokarski and finished the first period.
Muse, who came in warm enough from pregame due to the short night from Tokarski, turned out to be the difference maker. Muse would not allow Charlotte to score again after he came into the game.
The Phantoms, however, who have averaged four goals a game as of late, got back to their red-hot offensive ways in the second. Lehigh Valley got their first power play of the game at the 7:50 mark of the second, with Josiah Didier off for tripping. Another defensive lapse by the Phantoms saw the Checkers get a shorthanded 2-on-1 opportunity. Muse came up with a huge save, and Lehigh Valley started back the other way. Chris Conner came flying down the right side, as Phil Varone drove the net on the left. Conner then hit Varone with a tape to tape pass for an easy tap-in goal to tie the game back up.
The Phantoms took the lead for good two minutes later, as Oskar Lindblom rifled a one-timer home off a pass from Varone at the top of the left circle to make it 4-3. Carey would add a snipe on the power play early in the third, and Aube-Kubel would tally his second goal into an empty net to bookend the third period, leading to the 6-3 win. Muse would keep the middle part of the stanza occupied, making 10 stops in the final frame, including two on breakaways. Muse ended the night stopping all 25 shots he faced, earning 2nd-star honors and serious consideration to start Wednesday night’s rematch between these two clubs.
3rd- Trevor Carrick(CHA) = Goal, assist, -1
2nd- John Muse(LV) = 25 saves in relief, win
1st- Phil Varone (LV) = Goal, assist, +1
Lehigh Valley returns Wednesday night for a rematch with the Checkers at Bojangles Coliseum. After that, the Phantoms take a break from facing their divisional foes, as they return home Saturday night to face the Syracuse Crunch, who are currently in 3rd place in the North Division and the reigning Eastern Conference Champions.