Ever since the creation of the Phantoms in 1996 to become the Philadelphia Flyers' American Hockey League affiliate, the Flyers' previous AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears, have been the Phantoms' biggest rival. That rivalry will be renewed when the teams meet in the Calder Cup playoffs, starting on Friday, April 21 at the PPL Center in Allentown, PA in the first game of a best-in-five series.
This year marks the fifth time the Phantoms and Bears have met in the playoffs. Hershey prevailed in 1997, 2000 and 2009, while the Philadelphia Phantoms beat the Bears in 1998 en route to their first Calder Cup championship.
For Lehigh Valley, now in their third season in Allentown after five campaigns in Glens Falls, NY as the Adirondack Phantoms, the upcoming series marks their first trip to the Calder Cup playoffs in eight years; dating back to the 2009 first-round loss to the eventual Calder Cup champion Bears in the final season at the Spectrum. The Washington Capitals-affiliated Hershey team lost in the Calder Cup Finals in 2016 to the Lake Erie Monsters.
AS TOUGH AS THEY COME
The Atlantic Division was by far the deepest and toughest in the American Hockey League during the 2016-17 season. Boasting the AHL's second-best regular season record (48-23-5, 101 points), the Phantoms finished six points behind the Wilkes Barre/ Scranton Penguins and four points ahead of Hershey (43-22-11, 97 points) in the Atlantic.
During the regular season, the Phantoms and Bears played each other 12 times. The Phantoms went 7-4-1 against the Bears.
The Phantoms went 3-3-0 in the six games in Allentown and 4-1-1 in the games in Hershey. Overall, the Bears' 54 points on home ice ranked third in the AHL while the Phantoms' 51 road points represented the AHL's second-best road record.
POTENT SPECIAL TEAMS
The Phantoms' speed forced opponents into a lot of penalties this season, and Lehigh Valley (despite the ups and downs that are normal for even the top power plays) led the league with 73 power play goals scored while ranking tied for fifth in power play efficiency at 20.7 percent.
Hershey was the 7th most-penalized club in the 30-team AHL this season in terms of times shorthanded (322). The Bears ranked 14th in penalty killing efficiency (82.3 percent) and scored four shorthanded goals. One area the Phantoms will look to shore up in the playoffs is to yield fewer counterattacks on their own power plays. The 13 opposition shorthanded goals given up by the Phantoms were tied for the second most in the AHL this season.
With some exceptions such as hulking 6-foot-7, 227-pound defenseman Samuel Morin and the 6-foot-2, 219-pound McDonald, the Phantoms were one of the NHL's more undersized teams overall and were not as physically punishing as a team as Phantoms teams of the past were.
Correspondingly, the Phantoms were in the bottom half of the AHL in terms of times shorthanded (288, tied for 18th) although there were periodic games with a high number of Phantoms penalties.
Efficiency wise, the Phantoms ranked fifth in the AHL with an 84 percent success rate (fifth in the AHL) and also tallied seven shorthanded goals. Hershey's 20.7 power play efficiency rate was tied with the Phantoms for fifth in the league.
Part 2 of the series preview on Friday will examine the lineups of each team and how they match up from player to player.
Puck drop for Game 1 of the series is Friday at 7:05 p.m. ET. Continue to check into PhiladelphiaFlyers.com and the Flyers social media networks for more coverage on the Flyers top affiliate's playoff push.