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Photo by JustSports PhotographyPhil Varone and the Phantoms are set to begin the playoffs this week. Photo by JustSports PhotographyPhil Varone and the Phantoms are set to begin the playoffs this week.

Phantoms set to start the playoffs on Friday night

Wednesday, April 18, 2018 by chuck hixson Special to the Press in Sports

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.

For the team, there’s a bit of a break now as they await the opening of the Calder Cup Playoffs, which open Friday. The break allows for some time to look at individual performances and the opening of the awards season.

While early in the season, Danick Martel looked to be the guy who would be running away with all of the awards, a stint in Philadelphia and an injury slowed him down as far as accumulating AHL stats. Martel played in 59 games and finished second to Greg Carey for the team leadership in goals. He also finished tied for fifth on the Phantoms in total points with 40, while Carey finished second in points with 53. Nic Aube-Kubel finished third with 46 points and defenseman T.J. Brennan was just behind him with 45 total points.

Meanwhile, Phil Varone had one of the more consistent seasons among AHL players as he quietly played hard night-after-night, playing in 74 of the Phantoms 76 games and picking up 23 goals and 47 assists to lead the team in assists and points. His performance was good enough to be named the AHL’s Most Valuable Player. The award is voted on by coaches, players and media members from each of the league’s 30 cities.

Varone came into the final weekend of the regular season tied for the league lead in points, but was edged out by Laval’s Chris Terry, who garnered 32 goals and 39 assists. For the 27-year old center, he set career highs in goals, assists and points (70). On the season, Varone had multi-goal games 15 times and picked up at least one point in 48 of the 74 games that he played during the regular season.

For Varone, his biggest season in the AHL came in his first year as a member of the Phantoms. Initially drafted in the fifth round by the San Jose Sharks in 2009, Varone signed a two-year deal with the Flyers last July. In his career, he has also played for Rochester and Binghamton.

THE ROAD TO THE CALDER CUP ... Lehigh Valley owns home ice advantage in the division playoffs, but because of the distance between them and Providence, their first-round opponent, the format will be changed up to reduce travel – and expenses. The first two games of the best-of-five series will be played in Providence Friday and Saturday. However many of the final three games are needed will be played back at the PPL Center on April 28th, 29th and 30th. The format guarantees just one home game for Lehigh Valley, but still technically maintains their home ice advantage.

A FAMILIAR FOE ... Providence and Lehigh Valley faced each other five times in the Phantoms final 12 games of the season. In those games, the Phantoms went 3-1-1-0 against the Bruins and were 4-1-1-0 against them overall. At home, Lehigh Valley finished with the best home mark in the AHL at 27-6-3-2.

AMONG THE BANNERS ... As a franchise, the Phantoms have won two Calder Cup trophies (1998, 2005) and will be making their 12th appearance in the postseason. Overall, the Phantoms are 58-52 in the postseason.