LV still battling for AHL playoff berth
In what may be the wildest game of the season, Lehigh Valley pulled off a stunning 4-3 win over the defending AHL champion Toronto Marlies Saturday night at the PPL Center.
The win gave Lehigh Valley a season sweep of its two games with Toronto and three wins in their last four games against the Marlies. Going back five years, the Phantoms have played Toronto well, going 6-2-1-1.
In Saturday night’s win, the third period alone was worth the cost of admission. In the final 10:09 of that period, the teams combined for five goals, including a power play goal by Chris Conner with just 0.5 seconds left in regulation. The power play was set up by an interference penalty called on Toronto with just 26 seconds left to play.
Connor Bunnaman put a shot on goal with time running out and the puck rebounded perfectly to Conner, who buried it past Kasimir Kaskisuo for the game-winner.
Ironically, it was penalties on the Phantoms that helped Toronto nearly send the game into overtime. Goalie Mike McKenna was able to fend off two power plays in the wild third period, but the third time – and fifth overall – was the charm for the Marlies when Chris Mueller put a nice move on McKenna and got the puck just through his pads and into the net to give Toronto a 2-1 lead midway through the final period.
Tyrell Goulbourne’s second goal of the night made it 2-2 and Reece Wilcox put the Phantoms ahead with 6:14 to play.
Toronto came back to tie the game with just 1:57 left in the period before Bunnaman and Conner hooked up on their last-second heroics, which he wasn’t even sure happened for a split second.
“I kind of waited for just a quick second before I shot it and I thought I might have waited too long, but it went through,” said Conner. “I thought that tonight we played a full 60 minutes and everyone played tough and it was a good win for us.”
The win came on the heels of a big letdown the night before against Providence. In that game, the Bruins scored on their first shot of the game and then made it 2-0 just 26 seconds later and the Phantoms were never able to get back into the game.
One good sign was that the team didn’t show any lack of effort as it battled to get two goals in the final two minutes of the game to make it 5-3.
“We were down early in that game, but we were able to regroup today and get the win,” said Conner of Saturday’s return to form.
WE’RE TALKING PLAYOFFS?... The loss to Providence dealt a blow to the Phantoms playoff hopes. Instead of picking up two points and keeping the Bruins – one of the teams ahead of the Phantoms – shutout from gaining any points, it went the other way. With 12 games left, Lehigh Valley was three points behind Belleville for the final playoff spot, with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins between the two teams. Lehigh Valley has finished its season series with Belleville, but has four games remaining – three at home – with the Pens.
UPS AND DOWNS... The Phantoms thought they were getting some help when Justin Bailey was sent down from the Flyers on Friday morning. Bailey played in Friday night’s game against Providence, but a couple hours before the game against Toronto, he was summoned back to the Flyers.
The 23-year old came to the Flyers organization earlier this season in a trade with Buffalo and has played 17 games with Lehigh Valley and eight with the Flyers. This is the third time he’s been recalled by Philadelphia this season.
GORDO FOR GOOD?... Scott Gordon, who started the season as the coach of the Phantoms and then moved to an interim coach job with the Flyers when Dave Hakstol was fired, is gaining momentum to be the choice to get the job long-term. Gordon got the job in mid-December and after some early bumps and bruises, the team has gone 19-6-2 since January 12th.
The run has them knocking on the door for a playoff appearance and the talk is that Gordon may very well be hired as the coach beyond this season.