PREVIEW: Phantoms vs. Monsters, Game #66

Saturday, April 6, 7:05 p.m.
PPL Center, Allentown, PA
Lehigh Valley (29-27-9) vs. Cleveland (35-23-8)

The Force shall be with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms (29-27-9) as they draw light sabres with the Cleveland Monsters in an intergalactic battle on Star Wars Night at PPL Center.
The Magic Number to clinch a spot in the Calder Cup Playoff is down to nine points with seven games remaining as the Phantoms have opened their margin over the Springfield Thunderbirds to four points in the battle for the final playoff spot in the Atlantic.
Cleveland has slipped out of the top spot in the North Division in a recent slump but the second-place Monsters are closing in as well with a Magic Number at six points.

The Comeback Phantoms did it again! Tanner Laczynski’s overtime winner in a 3-2 triumph over the Providence Bruins capped a rally from a 2-0 deficit. Matt Miller scored a goal in his pro debut to mark a memorable evening for the University of Nebraska-Omaha product. And Adam Brooks got back into the scoring column with his 11th of the season late in the second period that tied the game at 2-2. After falling behind 2-0 in the first period, the Phantoms dominated the rest of the way with a 25-7 shots advantage over the third-highest scoring team in the AHL.
Evan Poleiprovided an early spark with a big “no holding back” fight against Vincent Arseneau in the opening minutes of the contest.

Right wing Matt Miller arrived to Allentown just 48 hours earlier and quickly found himself making his pro debut on Friday night against tthe Providence Bruins. Miller made it a memorable evening with a goal in the second period to spark Lehigh Valley’s comeback victory. Miller has signed an AHL contract for the 2024-25 season and has joined the Phantoms on a Professional Try Out contract for the remainder of the 2023-24 season. The 6’3″ forward from Leo, Indiana completed his four-year collegiate career at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and scored 7-13-20 in 37 games in his senior season in helping lead the Mavericks no the NCAA Tournament.

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms now lead the slumping Springfield Thunderbirds by four points in the battle for the last playoff spot in the Atlantic Division with just seven games remaining in the regular season. Lehigh Valley also trails Hartford by just three points for a possible five-seed.
Lehigh Valley’s Magic Number to clinch a playoff spot is nine points.
The top six teams in the Atlantic qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs. The first round is a Best of 3 series and right now would see the Phantoms take on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in a 6 vs. 3 matchup in late April. The Penguins moved into a tie for third with the Charlotte Checkers after defeating Cleveland 3-2 in overtime on Friday. But the Penguins hold the tiebreaker advantage over Charlotte.
Lehigh Valley’s second-round matchup would be against first-place Hershey in a Best of 5 series.
Upcoming Games to Watch
Springfield at Laval (3:00) / Hartford at Charlotte (4:00) / W-B/Scranton at Bridgeport (5:00)
Hartford at Charlotte (1:00)

Friday was the 300th pro game for forwards Rhett Gardner and Evan Polei.
Gardner, 28, has tied a career-high with 10 goals this season and has played in 258 career AHL games scoring 40-67-107. The Moose Jaw, SASK native who prides himself on his all-around 200-foot game and faceoff abilities has also played in 41 career NHL games including 40 with the Dallas Stars and one with Philadelphia.
Polei, 28, celerated his 268th career AHL game tonight with a monster tilt against Providence tough-guy Vincent Arseneau early in Friday’s contest that drew rave reviews and roars from the crowd. Polei has also played in 32 ECHL games. The rugged and hard-working winger from Wetaskiwin, ALTA has enjoyed AHL stints with Bakersfield, San Antonio, Cleveland and Manitoba.

Adam Brooks had his five-game goal streak snapped on Saturday despite several strong chances at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and he also had his seven-game point streak snapped on Tuesday in a 1-0 loss at Hershey. But Brooks got back into the goal column on Friday for his seventh goal in the last eight games. He has scored 7-7-14 in his last nine games in total dating back to March 15.

The Phantoms record when:
– Score 4 or more goals: 19-0-2
– Allow 3 or fewer goals: 19-6-3
– Lead After 1st period: 8-1-2
– Lead After 2nd period: 15-2-1
– One-Goal Games: 19-8-8
– Overtime: 7-6 / Shootout: 4-3

Lehigh Valley fans have not seen the AHL affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets since the very first game of the season on October 15 but the Monsters are back for Star Wars Night. Slumping Cleveland (35-22-8) has now dropped seven straight (0-5-2) and thus has fallen out of the top spot in the North Division behind Syracuse following a number of call-ups to the Blue Jackets.
But leading scorer Trey Fix-Wolansky (24-34-58) is back as is defenseman Jake Christensen. Fix-Wolansky is tied with Providence’s Georgii Merkulov for sixth in the AHL in scoring which began with his four-point performance in Allentown on October 15. He had an overtime winner against the Phantoms last season.
Veteran goaltender Malcolm Subban (11-17-4, 3.12, .889) arrived from Springfield in a trade between St. Louis and Columbus but has gone 0-3-0 with the Monsters.

Phantoms Scoring Leaders
Cooper Marody 18-34-52
Samu Tuomaala 15-27-42
x – Olle Lycksell 19-19-38
Tanner Laczynski 14-24-38
Emil Andrae 5-27-32

Bruins Scoring Leaders
Trey Fix-Wolansky 24-34-58
Jake Christensen 13-28-41
x Brendan Gaunce 19-20-39
x Carson Meyer 22-15-37
Owen Sillinger 10-24-34

Lehigh Valley PP, 19.1% (14th)  – Lehigh Valley PK 80.2% (24th) – LV vs. CLE PP 2/16 (12.5%)
Cleveland PP 18.5% (17th) – Cleveland PK 80.4% (23rd) – CLE vs. LV PP 4/12 (33.3%)

Oct 14 – Loss – Cleveland 5 at Lehigh Valley 2
Jan 19 – Loss – Lehigh Valley 2 at Cleveland 4
Jan 20 – Win – Lehigh Valley 4 at Cleveland 3

Lehigh Valley
Samu Tuomaala 2-2-4
Cooper Marody 1-2-3
Emil Andrae 1-1-2

x Brendan Gaunce 2-3-5
x Carson Meyer 3-1-4
Trey Fix-Wolansky 2-2-4

The Phantoms then travel to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for a Sunday 3:05 p.m. clash with the rival Penguins and then head to Hershey next Friday, April 12 for the final matchup against the first-place Bears.
The Phantoms return to PPL Center on Saturday, April 13 against the Bridgeport Islanders on Los Fantasmas Night

Phantoms Tickets are available HERE

Saturday, April 6 (7:05) vs. Cleveland Monsters – Star Wars Night
Sunday, April 7 (3:05) at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins

Friday, April 12 (7:00) at Hershey Bears
Saturday, April 13 (7:05) vs. Bridgeport Islanders