ALLENTOWN, PENN – After back-to-back one-goal losses in Toronto over the weekend, including a heartbreaker in overtime back in game two on Sunday afternoon, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms looked to turn the series around as they returned home for game three Wednesday evening. Game three marked the first home game for the Phantoms since game two of the Atlantic Division Finals against the Charlotte Checkers on Cinco De Mayo, and the Phantoms players were ready to play in front of the sea of orange.
In attendance for tonight’s game were some big-name Flyers executives, including head coach Dave Hakstol and team president Paul Holmgren. General Manager Ron Hextall was not in attendance as he had just returned home from the Memorial Cup.
Neither coach made any changes to their respective lineups which meant for the third straight game Alex Lyon was between the pipes for Lehigh Valley and Garret Sparks for Toronto.
The Phantoms wanted to come out of the gates early and gain some momentum but it was all gone in a matter of 61 seconds as following a Travis Sanheim turnover, Andreas Johnsson was able to find Carl Grundstrom on the doorstep for his sixth goal of the playoffs. Shortly after the Toronto goal, the Phantoms would look to respond on the team’s first power play of the game, but their home power play woes continued as they were unable to get a shot on goal. Counting this power play chance, Lehigh Valley is two for 18 on the man advantage at PPL Center.
The Phantoms would be awarded another power play late in the opening frame, but once again the Marlies PK unit came up huge to keep Lehigh Valley off the scoreboard. Three minutes after being on the penalty kill, the Marlies would have the opportunity to gain some more momentum with their first power-play chance of the contest, but thanks to Maxim Lamarche‘s stellar play, the Marlies were unable to get one past Lyon. The first period came to a close with it being an all Toronto period as they out-shot Lehigh Valley 11 to three and held the 1-0 advantage.
Less than five minutes into the second and following some unsuccessful Phantoms chances, the Marlies were able to squeak one past Lyon as Johnsson would pick up his second point of the game on his fourth goal of the playoffs. The Phantoms would continue to apply pressure on Sparks, but the talented netminder would show why he was named the AHL Goaltender of the Year as he would make one big save after the other.
Toronto would continue to apply pressure on the helpless Phantoms and Mason Marchment was able to bank in the rebound for both his third goal of the playoffs and to give Toronto a sizable three-goal cushion. Late in the second period and down three goals, emotions started to show for the home team as Mark Friedman was sent to the sin bin for a questionable cross-checking minor much to the disagreement of the Phantoms fans in attendance.
With 10:19 to go in the game Alex Lyon was assessed a match penalty for kicking and was removed from the game. Dustin Tokarski, who has not played in 18 days, was called in to replace Lyon in net. The Marlies would continue to add onto the goal total as team captain Ben Smith would pick up his second goal of the series. On the same match penalty assessed to Lyon, and after a review, it was determined Smith had beat Tokarski again 81 seconds after his first goal. With nothing going Lehigh Valley’s, way another Phantom was kicked out of the game as Mikhali Vorobyev was given a game misconduct for abusing the officials with less than seven minutes to go.
When the final horn, sounded the Toronto Marlies had blanked the Lehigh Valley Phantoms by the score of 5-0 and to take a commanding 3-0 lead in the series. It would be only the fourth time all season that Lehigh Valley has gotten shut out, and two of these have came this postseason. The Phantoms’ Achilles heel tonight was not being able to get many shots on goal as Sparks had to only make 16 saves on 16 chances.
The Phantoms also committed way too many turnovers which was something they neither wanted nor needed in one of their biggest games of the season. The Marlies will look for both the sweep and a spot in the Calder Cup Finals Friday night inside the PPL Center. Puck drop will be after 7:05 EDT. Be sure to follow @SinBinBeast and @SinBinPhantoms on twitter for live tweets and reactions.