Phantoms Take Down Charlotte 5-2
April 7, 2023
Lehigh Valley, PA – Cooper Marody returned from injury with a big three-point performance with two goals and one assist as the Lehigh Valley Phantoms trimmed their Magic Number to clinching a playoff berth to just three points via an impressive 5-2 victory over the Charlotte Checkers on Friday. Sam Ersson racked up 29 saves in his return from the Flyers as Lehigh Valley also closed to within two points of the Charlotte Checkers and Springfield Thunderbirds in the team’s bid for home-ice advantage in the first round of the postseason.
Louie Belpedio (7th) and Elliot Desnoyers (22nd) both had two-point nights with a goal and an assist apiece and Olle Lycksell (12th) scored in his second consecutive game as the Phantoms continued to peak in the stretch run of the regular season having won for a fifth time in their last six games and also a tenth time in the team’s most recent 15.
With just four games remaining in the regular season, the Phantoms are now on the verge of officially punching their ticket to the Calder Cup Playoffs potentially as early as Saturday night if Lehigh Valley can defeat the Springfield Thunderbirds AND if the Bridgeport Islanders lose against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The fifth-place Phantoms are also looking to catch and pass the two teams directly ahead of them, Charlotte and Springfield. The big weekend against the opponents directly ahead of the Phantoms in the standings continues Saturday night when the Springfield Thunderbirds arrive to PPL Center.
The Elliot Desnoyers strike for his 22nd of the season also made history. The talented 21-year-old prospect is now tied for the most goals by a rookie in Lehigh Valley history. Danick Martel also had 22 goals as a rookie in 2015-16. The Phantoms FRANCHISE record is 24 goals by Kyle Greentree with the Philadelphia Phantoms in 2007-08.
The Charlotte Checkers took the initial lead with veteran talent Cory Conacher (3rd) finding the back of the net on a flick from the right circle that squeezed past Sam Ersson. The capper of an extended shift in the Lehigh Valley end would be the only tally the Checkers would get for almost the rest of the night.
The Phantoms quickly responded with Belpedio converting just 1:27 later to even the count at 1-1. Adam Brooks from the side of the cage helped draw out former Phantoms goaltender J-F Berube. After a scramble in front and a quick recovery of the puck from behind the goal, Bobby Brink’s try bounced out to Garrett Wilson who smartly passed back to an open Belpedio who rifled home the tying tally while Berube was still trying to scramble back into position. Belpedio’s big two-point performance came in his milestone 300th career AHL game.
The Phantoms took control in the second period beginning with Desnoyers scoring his 22nd of the season at 2:07 after Adam Ginning rotated in deep and Cooper Marody connected with Desnoyers in the left circle who beat Berube for a 2-1 lead.
Olle Lycksell scored barely more than eight minutes later to take the advantage to 3-1 after Tyson Foerster’s shot was blocked and deflected over to the right side of the cage. Lycksell’s sharp-angle effort was deflected as well but fluttered up and past Berube and then over the line for the score. Adam Brooks impressively won a race for the puck on a long clear to essentially steal the puck away and set up the scoring chance for his teammates.
Foerster’s assist on the play gives him a five-game point streak with the Phantoms since his return to Lehigh Valley from Philadelphia having scored 1-6-7 in the stretch. Foerster has a combined 10-game point streak between Philadelphia and Lehigh Valley scoring 4-9-13 in his hottest scoring string of the season.
It briefly looked like Adam Brooks might have scored on a bank from behind the cage that would have made it 4-1 but it was difficult to tell if the puck had truly crossed the line. The Checkers scrambled to cover and the referee was unable to see the puck cross the line on video review.
Marody buried a power-play conversion in his first game back from injury with a drive from the right circle over the left shoulder of Berube for a 4-1 lead at 6:08 into the third period on a strike that was assisted by Desnoyers and Belpedio completing multi-point efforts for both.
Former Phantoms forward Connor Bunnaman (15th) made things interesting on his goal from the slot with 5:51 remaining to pull the Checkers to within 4-2. Charlotte had a number of strong chances in the closing minutes but Errson came up with several key saves in a third-period push in which the Checkers outshot the Phantoms 13-6. Jordy Bellerive charged out to pick up a key block to keep the Phantoms up by a pair.
Marody hit the post on an empty-net try but a few seconds later wouldn’t miss on his next effort as his second goal of the game and 14th of the season with 29 seconds left finished the 5-2 victory.
May the Foerster be With the Phantoms on Star Wars Night, as Lehigh Valley can officially punch its ticket to the Calder Cup Playoffs in Saturday night’s PPL Center encounter with the Springfield Thunderbirds.
1st 11:11 – CLT, C. Conacher (3) (L. Hutsko, G. Denisenko) 0-1
1st 12:38 – LV, L. Belpedio (7) (B. Brink, G. Wilson) 1-1
2nd 2:07 – LV, E. Desnoyers (22) (C. Marody, A. Ginning) 2-1
2nd 10:45 – LV, O. Lycksell (12) (T. Foerster, A. Brooks) 3-1
3rd 6:08 – LV, C. Marody (13) (E. Desnoyers, L. Belpedio) (PP) 4-1
3rd 14:09 – CLT, C. Bunnaman (15) (L. Carlsson, C. Conacher) 4-2
3rd 19:31 – LV, C. Marody (14) (A. Brooks, K. Connauton) (EN) 5-2
LV 20 – CLT 31
LV 1/3, CLT 0/3
LV – S. Ersson (W) (23-14-1) (29/31)
CLT – J-F Berube (L) (7-6-3) (15/19)
Lehigh Valley (36-26-6)