There aren’t many more heartbreaking ways to lose a hockey game than what the Lehigh Valley Phantoms did on Saturday night.
Down 0-1 in their best-of-five series with the Hershey Bears after a tough OT loss on Friday in Game 1, the Phantoms blew leads of 1-0, 2-1 and 4-2 en route to a backbreaking, deflating, probably season-killing 5-4 defeat.
They’ll now need three straight wins to keep their season alive now, two on the road, against the defending Eastern Conference Champion Bears.
It started out great, at least. On the first shift of the game, Colin McDonald stepped up and absolutely wrecked a Bear with a devastating hit that was honestly pretty reminiscent of a certain Claude Giroux hit on Sidney Crosby that took place five years ago today. The result was the same, too, as T.J. Brennan scored on the next shift to give Lehigh Valley the 1-0 lead.
The Phantoms dominated play for the first six minutes of the first, picking up two power plays and that early lead. But on Hershey’s first shot of the game, you could tell it was going to be one of those nights. Stanislav Galiev put that first shot behind goaltender Alex Lyon to tie the game at 1-1.
Lehigh Valley kept coming, though, ultimately outshooting Hershey 16-4 in the first period. Andy Miele scored with just 12 seconds left in the period, and the Phantoms went into the locker room up 2-1.
Andy Miele with a killer shot to put the Phantoms up 2-1! That's the score at the first intermission. pic.twitter.com/loNnP1VS5c— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) April 22, 2017
But the lead didn’t last long, as would become the theme of the night. Christian Djoos — he pronounces that like “juice,” I guess — scored just 3:47 into the second period to again tie the game, this time at 2-2.
The Phantoms again kept up the pressure, largely outplaying the Bears in just about every facet of the game throughout the second period, hitting multiple posts, carrying play and really not giving Hershey much to work with. It seemed as though it was finally going to turn their way, too, with two goals in the last five minutes of the period by Greg Carey.
It's 3-2 Phantoms after this beautiful individual effort from Greg Carey! pic.twitter.com/po73L7sumC— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) April 23, 2017
Greg Carey again! He knocks it out of midair and in, and it's 4-2 Phantoms. pic.twitter.com/oBNyhO7hD4— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) April 23, 2017
They had the 4-2 lead and a 25-8 edge in shots entering the final frame. Had they kept playing the game they had for the first 40, it certainly seemed as though the Phantoms would be fine. And they did for roughly the first 10 minutes, but things quickly went south.
With about 10 minutes to go, Lyon went down awkwardly on a save and stayed down, unable to put pressure on his right leg as he was helped off the ice. With Anthony Stolarz already out for the year due to a leg injury of his own, Martin Ouellette stepped in to finish out the game. And from that point forward, you could see Hershey’s eyes light up with the thoughts of the comeback.
Not that it was Ouellette’s fault. Neither of the three goals ultimately scored against the ECHL-regular should have been expected saves, as the Bears just swarmed the Phantoms, who for the first time all series looked like they couldn’t skate with their opponent. In fact, it’s really the only time all series in which Lehigh Valley didn’t outright dominate the Bears, even including the 1-0 Game 1 loss. But of course, as these things tend to go, the lull came in the most important part of the series so far. The Phantoms just couldn’t weather the storm.
Lyon’s status is unknown entering Game 3 on Wednesday in Hershey. We could see Carter Hart -- as a backup behind Ouellette, more than likely — suit up should Lyon not be able to play. No matter who dresses in goal, though, it’s very possible it’s the last time anybody does it in a Phantoms uniform in 2016-17.