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Phantoms 5, Checkers 1: A series lead has once again been acquired

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Ten things that were observed from a game three victory

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Last night the Phantoms broke the 1-1 series tie with a huge win and were able to reclaim home ice advantage. They are now just two wins away from their first trip to the Eastern Conference Final since 2005 - a year, well, let’s not even go there. Yet.

1. A strong start goes a long way

Okay, maybe it wasn’t that strong of a start. The Checkers did carry play for the first two minutes, but they were unable to score and that’s all that really matters, right? Just Win Baby. For the first time in the series, the Phantoms scored the first goal of the game! Not only the first goal of the game, but also the second! Just 1:23 after Mike Vecchione’s goal, Danick Martel added to the lead, and boy was it a beauty.

In the end, two goals were all the Phantoms needed as they cruised their way to a 5-1 victory. Although they were out shot 13-8 in the first period, the Phantoms had the better chances and were able to cash in.

2. Morin’s minutes increased

After being eased in a bit in game two, his first game since January, Samuel Morin was reunited with his partner from the beginning of the season, Philippe Myers. Well, for most of the game anyway. Overall he looked good, and also played pretty well.

To my recollection he didn’t make any unforced errors and defended well both off the rush and during the Checkers’ cycles. His stat line was pretty boring, just a bunch of zeroes alongside one shot on goal and a +1 rating, but he made an impact on the game physically, that’s for sure. As this series moves on we should expect to see Morin’s ice time to continue to trend upwards.

3. Keep the game at even strength

Easier said than done, but for the Phantoms to win this series they’ll have to depend on their strong play at even strength. The Checkers have one the most lethal power play units in the league, and lit the Phantoms up for four goals back in game 2. Last night the Phantoms were able to stay out of the box for the entirety of the first period and left with a 2-0 lead thanks to two 5-on-5 goals.

When Alex Krushelnyski took the first penalty of the game for closing his hand on the puck, it took Charlotte just ten seconds to strike. Somehow, the AHL’s regular season goal scoring leader, Valentin Zykov, was left alone in front of Alex Lyon and was able to score off of a rebound.

4. Speaking of special teams

The penalty kill showed improvement! Sure, the first kill was pretty bad considering they only lasted ten seconds before getting scored on, but for the rest of the game the penalty killers successfully did their job, with some help from Lyon, of course. It was a welcome sight to see after their trouble in the previous game.

The other good news is that the power play was clicking as well! They only had two opportunists, one coming with about a minute and a half remaining in the game, but from what I could see, they looked like a pretty cohesive unit. During their only “real” power play chance, Oskar Lindblom scored to extend their lead to three goals.

5. Goaltending may have been the biggest difference

While Lyon made 34 saves on 35 shots, Alex Nedeljkovic would end up getting pulled after allowing 4 goals on 15 shots, and while he can’t be blamed for all the goals, he was simply out dueled by Lyon tonight. The Phantoms third and fourth goals were probably ones he’d like to have back, but I have a hard time blaming him on the first two.

On the first goal, Haydn Fleury blocked a shot right in front of Nedeljkovic and the puck bounced right back to Vecchione who had a wide open net to shoot at, and on the second goal, Martel’s, well you saw it yourself just a little earlier. It was a beauty. As far as the Lindblom goal goes, the rebound control was nonexistent, and Chris Conner’s goal came from a stoppable angle. At the end of the day these were saves that had to be made and would’ve kept the game close.

6. The kids contributing

Ah yes, everyone’s favorite topic. The prospects. Let’s start with Phil Myers. Myers left the game with a 5-on-5 goal differential of +2 and was on the ice for Lindblom’s empty net goal, giving him a +3 rating on the night. He may have left the game without a point (although, I think he should have been given a secondary assist on Conner’s goal, but, whatever) but he did push the pace of the game during the first two periods before the Phantoms decided to only play defense for the final 20 minutes.

Sean Cout- sorry, I mean Mikhail Vorobyev, also had a pretty good game 3. He picked up the primary assist on Martel’s goal and did some great work on the penalty kill. Saying a player does “all the little things” is as cliche as it comes, but he really does do all the little things. Every time I take one of his shifts and just focus on him I see an extremely smart player, especially defensively.

7. The vets contributing

Veteran presence might as well be a swear word when it comes to us Flyers fans, but when the vets are actually, y’know, above replacement level players, it’s a good thing to have!

From Chris Conner and Greg Carey continuing to rack up playoff points, to T.J. Brennan excelling at both ends of the ice, this game was a great showing from the 28 and up club. Carey, the sniper turned playmaker, picked up two more assists last night while Conner scored his third goal of the postseason, putting him just one behind Lindblom for the team lead. Brennan picked up a secondary assist on the first goal of the game and later helped break the puck out of the defensive zone which led to Martel’s goal.

8. Stop playing not to lose

Y’all, have you watched the Vegas Golden Knights play? Have you seen them constantly applying pressure offensively late in games with a lead? It works, folks, it works. The Phantoms were outshot 19-2 in the third period. Yes, you read that right, nineteen to two. It looks even worse when you realize one of their shots on goal was Lindblom’s empty netter! They made Jeremy Smith make one save in the third period. One save. That’s not enough.

Thankfully sitting back with a three goal lead didn’t bite the Phantoms this time, as Lyon stood on his head for just about the whole period and he got a little help from the post, along with Reece Willcox, who made a diving save to stop a sure goal. Hockey is a game of inches and had the breaks not gone the Phantoms way, this game may have had a whole different outcome.

9. Winning is way more fun than losing

Revolutionary thought here, I know. Not only for fans and analysts, but for the players themselves. During game two the Phantoms’ frustration was crystal clear. They wound up with 46 minutes worth of penalties and gave Charlotte eight power plays which, needless to say, was a recipe for disaster.

It was easy to see that, after grabbing the early lead, this game wouldn’t follow the same path. Just about everyone wearing orange (or in this case, white) was in a better mood which led to crisper passes, quicker decision making, and improved discipline. The exact opposite of game two. Let’s do more of that, please.

10. The only damn thing I know

If you watch a lot of Phantoms games, whether on AHL Live or on a local broadcast, you would have heard the Service Electric jingle by now. Let me tell you, it will embed itself into your brain forever and never leave. First thing you hear when you wake up? “See, all you wanna see, turn on Service Electric cable TV!” Last thing you hear before bed? “Channel after channel, we bring you more, all of what you want to see!” Seriously, look it up if you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s beyond catchy.