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Phantoms vs. Bears recap: Hershey takes 1-0 series lead over the Phantoms in an overtime thriller

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The Phantoms’ first playoff game since 2009 ended in an overtime loss at home.

Andrew Ostrosky / GNGHockey

The Phantoms are in the playoffs! The Phantoms are in the playoffs!

Finally, for the first time since 2009, the top minor league team of the Philadelphia Flyers is big in the hunt for the Calder Cup this season. After an unbelievable season, where they held a record of 48-23-5-0, they finished 2nd in the quality-heavy Atlantic Division, only behind the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. That’s also true for the league standings: the Phantoms were 2nd in the entirety of the AHL.

It had been an absolutely incredible season for the Phantoms this year, and seeing the top prospects in the Flyers’ pipeline in the playoffs is hopefully an indicator of things to come...

Their opponent in the first round? The Hershey Bears. This Bears team is not one to be taken lightly; they made a late-season surge to steal a playoff spot away from the clutches of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (RIP Halak). The Bears finished 3rd in the Atlantic by virtue of beating the Providence Bruins on the final day of the regular season. They hold a record of 43-22-8-3.

Hershey’s Chocolate, you shall be no more.

Game 1 was to be held in the Valley at the PPL Center. In the AHL, the first round is a best-of-5, so whichever team gets to 3 wins first moves on. It’s a 2-2-1 format, so the first 2 games will be in Allentown with the next 2 going to Hershey, and if a decisive game 5 needs to be held, it will be in Allentown.

The Phantoms absolutely dominated the 1st period with a 15-5 shot advantage over Hershey. However, both teams could not score, even with two power plays going to the Phantoms and one going to the Bears. Phoenix Copley, the top goaltender for Hershey, was standing on his head in the 1st period. He has done this all year; after being traded to Washington in the Kevin Shattenkirk deal, he was assigned to Hershey and ended the season with a .931 save percentage.

Speaking of goalies, with Anthony Stolarz getting injured in the final week of the regular season, the spotlight turned to Alex Lyon. Lyon started the majority of the games for the Phantoms this season, and he finished with a .912 save percentage. For game 1, he was the starter, and Martin Ouellette was the backup. Ouellette is like a career Flyers organization-er. He’s played with the Royals this season until he needed to be called up.

In the 2nd, the Bears started to gain some footing. At one point, Hampus Gustafsson and Liam O’Brien were on a break down low in the Phantoms zone, but Alex Lyon’s presence scared them away. Because he is a lion.

Late in the second, Danick Martel was called offside on a stretch pass from the Phantoms’ end. This was very much the wrong call, and Danick Martel would’ve been on breakaway. Flyers fans, this is a usual feeling. (No, I’m not trying to act like bad reffing doesn’t happen all the time for every team. No, I don’t think it happens to just the Flyers. Yes, I’m trying to spark a reaction. Call me Howard Eskin.)

But there was another terrible call that sent Martel to the penalty box with under 2 minutes remaining in the period. Martel was called for cross-checking Madison Bowey, but honestly, Bowey would’ve fallen with a gust of wind here.

In good 2nd period news, Samuel Morin is a (Bob Ro)truck.

Into the third period, the defensive struggle continued. Nathan Walker, six minutes into the final frame of regulation, grabbed the puck on the right wing side and raced towards the net. Before he could pull the trigger, Maxim Lamarche got a stick in between the puck and Walker’s stick, and the puck was cleared as Walker went down to the ice.

Just a couple minutes later, Liam O’Brien laid an illegal hit on Steve Swavely near the Hershey benches, and right after that, Tyrell Goulborune challenged O’Brien to a fight. And fight there was! Both players were swinging and kind of connecting. Nonetheless, a spirited bout spurred an exciting bit of action in the scoreless game. O’Brien was called for interference, and the Phantoms went to the power play. Unfortunately, they couldn’t capitalize on the power play.

With opportunities aplent for the Bears, they couldn’t put any pucks past Lyon. The third period ended with a 0-0 scoreline, meaning overtime would be required to finish this game. The last time the Phantoms won an OT game in the playoffs was the famous 5OT game against the Albany River Rats in the 2008 playoffs.

Immediately, Danick Martel had an amazing opportunity directly in front of Copley, but he couldn’t finish it! He pulled back his own rebound, and his second shot was again saved! ONCE AGAIN, he got his own rebound, and Nathan Walker finally got over to poke the puck away. What chaos!

Colin McDonald had another huge opportunity for the Phantoms when he blew by Hurbert Labrie and had an extremely tight-angle breakaway, but his shot was turned aside by Copley. That was his 30th save of the night.

Coming the other way, a breakdown by the Phantoms defensively gave Nathan Walker of the Bears a clear chance in front of Lyon, and after a small bit of patience by Walker, he whipped the puck into the back of the net to secure game 1 for the Bears.

This defensive game was a great test for the first timers in the playoffs for the Phantoms. Alex Lyon had a fantastic game in net, stopping 19 of 20 shots. Just watching the Phantoms back in the playoffs is seriously such a joyous experience, and (even though they lost game 1, you better believe they will be hungrier in game 2 (if that’s even possible).

Game 2 is tomorrow night at 7:05 p.m. Go Phantoms!