In what was an evenly played Game 1, the Phantoms were able to walk away with a victory, but the health of their top defenseman, Travis Sanheim, is a cause for concern moving forward.
It was a slow start for the first three minutes as both teams were feeling each other out and trying their best to not make a mistake. The first scoring chance of the game came 3:20 into the game when Nicolas Aube-Kubel stripped the Checkers’ defenseman of the puck and took a shot off the rush from the high slot, which was stopped by Alex Nedeljkovic.
The Phantoms were certainly the better team through the first five minutes of the game, out-shooting the Checkers 4-0 and generating a good amount of scoring chances as well. There was one almost-chance that would have come off the stick of Philippe Myers had the net not been knocked off “accidentally on purpose” by Nedljkovic.
At the 14:02 mark of the period, Sanheim drew a high-sticking penalty on Valentin Zykov, and quite frankly, it wasn’t a very smart penalty to take. Sanheim had just made a great defensive play and sent the puck up the ice and he and Zykov got into a bit of a shoving match, resulting in the penalty. The power play was, well, bad. Not only did they have zero shots on goal, they had zero shot attempts. Not ideal!
Following the power play, Alex Krushelnyski was set up by Cole Bardreau on a 3-on-2 rush by Nedeljkovic was able to slide across the crease to stop the shot with his pad.
Nicolas Roy got the first good scoring chance for Charlotte as he took a pass from a Checkers’ defenseman, got in close to Alex Lyon, and took a high shot to the blocked side that Lyon was able to fight off.
The first scrum of the series started with 5:37 remaining, with Bardreau, Krushelnyski, and Colin McDonald all involved from the Phantoms.
With 4:33 left in the period, Valentin Zykov broke the 0-0 tie. There was quite the mess in front of the net and the puck eventually wound up on Zykov’s stick right in front of the net and he was able to beat Lyon with a quick snap shot. Following his goal, Zykov took his second penalty of the game. He tripped up Bardreau, who may have embellished just a little bit, sending the Phantoms to another power play. With just over 20 seconds remaining in the period, Friedman and McDonald combined for a great chance but Nedeljkovic was able to make the save.
At the end of the period, the Checkers scored the only goal and the shots on goal were tied 10-10.
The Phantoms began the period with some carry over power play time and almost immediately T.J. Brennan took a shot from the right side of the ice that rang off the left post. It was that close to a tie game early in the period. Lyon had to come up huge soon after, stopping an Andrew Miller shot following a cross ice pass down low. He’d soon be asked to do more as Bardreau was called for a hooking minor. He was disrupting a 2-on-1 rush so it’s not like it was a bad penalty to take. On the ensuing Checkers’ power play, their unit looked great. They took plenty of shots, a lot of which were from down low. While the Phantoms did successfully kill the penalty, a lot of that had to do with Lyon.
In an act of good karma, Krushelnyski would get the Phantoms on the board immediately following an icing call that went against the Phantoms that really shouldn’t have. Bardreau won the defensive zone face off and once the puck was dumped into the Checkers’ zone, he got in on the forecheck, stole the puck, and found McDonald out front for a great chance. While Nedeljkovic was able to stop that shot, the rebound went right to Krushelnyski who shot the puck into a wide open net for the tying goal.
Alex Krushelnyski puts in the rebound! We have a tie game! pic.twitter.com/uZLsj8urcy— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) May 5, 2018
From then on it was all Phantoms for the rest of the period, including a coast-to-coast rush by Travis Sanheim that ended with a high-sticking penalty called against Roland McKeown.
In terms of scoring chances this power play was the Phantoms best by far, as they threw a ton of pucks at the net and Nedeljkovic was forced to make a couple of big saves. After failing to convert on their chances, the power play was over and they had to kill a penalty of their own less than a minute after when Bardreau was called for slashing. The penalty kill unit did great work, especially Corban Knight and Mikhail Vorobyev who each broke up a pass and blocked a shot on the same shift.
The Phantoms scored the lone goal of the period and were outshot 15-9 by the Checkers. The shots were 25-19 overall, in favor of Charlotte.
While the Checkers had the better start, they also took the first penalty when Lucas Wallmark held up Aube-Kubel in the Phantoms zone. For the second time of the game, the power play wasn’t able to get anything going. In fact it was the Checkers that had the better of the scoring chances this time.
With just over 9 minutes remaining, McDonald made a great backhand pass behind the net perfectly on to the stick of Bardreau who took a one-timer, but the shot was stopped. Lehigh Valley continued the pressure, this time with a 2-on-1 odd man rush with McDonald and Danick Martel that saw McDonald hang onto the puck and take a shot in close that Nedeljkovic was able to stop. Julien Gauthier had a wonderful opportunity to score with just over five minutes remaining in the game. He rushed into the zone and took a slap shot from the high slot that Lyon just got enough of to stop. Thankfully the puck landed right in front of Alex and he was able to corral the rebound.
What happened next is still something I’m trying to wrap my head around. With just over four minutes left, somehow, this shot taken by Krushelnyski was stopped by Nedeljkovic.
Yeah, that was ridiculous.
Now is time to talk about the worst part of this game, Sanheim’s injury. Travis was rushing up the ice through the neutral zone when he collided with Zykov and was on the receiving end of a knee-on-knee hit. Sanheim had to be helped off the ice and didn’t put much, if any, weight on his leg as he came off. Zykov was assessed a 2-minute minor for tripping.
This would be the Phantoms fifth power play of the game, one that wouldn’t go to waste. Just six seconds into the power play Knight won the faceoff back to Myers, who found Chris Conner along the left wall, who then quickly moved the puck to Knight below the net. Knight then made the final pass, finding Greg Carey open in the slot and well, Carey isn’t going to miss many from there. A faceoff win, four passes, and a shot on goal all in just six seconds of game time.
Greg Carey's game winning goal! pic.twitter.com/wuL6hFC5NV— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) May 5, 2018
The Phantoms killed off the final minute and half of the game to win by a final score of 2-1 and take a 1-0 series lead. Of course, the result is almost a secondary concern at this point with Sanheim’s health now in question. The final shots on goal were 32-30 in favor of Lehigh Valley, who had a 13-5 shot advantage in the third period. Alex Lyon made 29 saves on 30 shots, while Alex Krushelnyski and Greg Carey scored the Phantoms’ two goals.
Game 2 is tomorrow night; puck drop is 7:05.