The Lehigh Valley Phantoms went into Toronto on a mission to do something that no other team has done this postseason; beat the Marlies on their home ice. Toronto has gone 7-0 at home this postseason after winning all five home games in last year’s playoffs. While the effort was there, the result wasn’t and Toronto has jumped out to a 2-0 lead in games over the Phantoms in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference Championship series. The series now returns to Lehigh Valley for the next three games.
After the Charlotte Checkers literally manhandled the Phantoms at the PPL Center in game two of their division championship series, nobody would have predicted that the Phantoms would go on the road and sweep the next three games to win the series.
The 6-0 drubbing in game two seemed to have sent a message to the Phantoms who responded by winning three straight - including a historic game four – to head to the Conference Championship against the Toronto Marlies.
Erik Kratz is a guy who has come to accept his baseball life for what it is. In each of the last eight seasons, the Telford, Pennsylvania product has played at least a couple of games in the majors and has done so with six different major league teams, including the Phillies. He continued the streak last season when he played in four games with the Yankees and he’s returned to the organization this season and is playing for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Generally, you think of rivalries as being between teams in close proximity to each other.
Sometimes though, rivalries can develop because of circumstances, including a big playoff series. Such is the case for the budding rivalry between the Phantoms and Charlotte Checkers. The two teams played each other very evenly during the regular season and are matched up in the Atlantic Division finals on their quest for an AHL Calder Cup trophy.
The series win over Providence in the semifinals of the Atlantic Division playoffs was the first for the Phantoms franchise since their days of playing on the same ice that the Philadelphia Flyers played on at the Spectrum in Philadelphia.
It came in the same year where their next-door neighbors, the Philadelphia Phillies, last won the World Series - 2008.
On Sunday, the Philadelphia Flyers had a one-goal lead as they looked to fight their way back into their best-of-seven series with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
With the Flyers up 4-2, Pittsburgh scored five straight goals, including four by Jake Guentzel, and went on to eliminate the Flyers in six games with an 8-5 win.
The Phantoms wrapped up a season that saw them not only qualify for the playoffs for the second straight season, but also win their first Atlantic Division title since moving to the Lehigh Valley. They’ve got home ice advantage throughout the divisional playoffs and would only lose that advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs if they were to face the Toronto Marlies, the AHL’s top team.
With their playoff spot and home ice advantage secured throughout the Atlantic Division, the Phantoms are going to have a couple extra players on hand for the final two games of the regular season this weekend. With junior leagues done, teams are bringing some of their young draft picks into the AHL for an abbreviated audition and the Phantoms will have two of those young players on their roster.
Forwards Pascal Laberge and Isaac Ratcliffe have joined the team from their respective Canadian Hockey League teams following the end of their seasons.
Last season, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms reached the AHL Playoffs, but had a much quicker exit than most expected.
That hasn’t been forgotten by the players who are around on this year’s playoff team and they’re determined to make this postseason a much longer experience. For veteran players and the organization as a whole, returning to the playoffs for a second straight season has a bigger meaning than just playing for a Calder Cup Championship.
The Phantoms believe that the road to the 2018 Calder Cup goes through the Lehigh Valley.
The team clinched a playoff berth with a 5-4, overtime loss at Providence which combined nicely with Bridgeport’s 4-1 loss at Syracuse to lock up their playoff ticket. This will be the 12th playoff appearance for the Phantoms, dating back to their days in Philadelphia, and second in a row as they look for their third Calder Cup championship.