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.
New IronPigs manager Gary Jones made his first visit to the Lehigh Valley recently, but it somehow felt somewhat familiar to him. Jones last served in baseball as the third base coach of the Chicago Cubs, managed by Joe Maddon. The Cubs manager may be the most famous resident of Hazleton and Jones said that his old boss talked often about his hometown and the Lehigh Valley.
“He often talked about being home and how much he loved this area,” said Jones. “He talked about the people, how beautiful the area was. You could tell he had a special spot for this area.”
Playoffs? We’re talking about playoffs?
Yeah, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms are talking about playoffs. After a shootout loss in Hartford Friday night, Lehigh Valley welcomed Providence to town Saturday night. The Bruins stand third in the Atlantic Division and would seem to have a pretty good grip on a playoff spot, but certainly don’t want to make any assumptions.
If you think your weekends are busy, consider the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
This past weekend, they wrapped up the middle portion of three-straight, three-game weekends on their schedule. While it’s almost a foregone conclusion that the Phantoms will be playing playoff hockey this spring, nothing is official just yet. With 13 games left to play in the regular season, the Phantoms have dropped their magic number down to 12 after a productive weekend.