CHARLOTTE - The Charlotte Checkers were eliminated from Calder Cup Playoff contention in a 5-1 loss to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in Game 5 of the second round.
As he was all series long, Alex Lyon was a difference-maker in net for the Phantoms. He made 27 saves on 28 shots, with Roland McKeown scoring the lone goal for the Checkers.
Here are four takeaways from a decisive Game 5.
1. 'Til the Very End
One had to wonder how the Checkers would respond after losing in the fifth overtime in the early morning hours of Thursday. Despite the fight and battle in what was a record-setting match, the Checkers unfortunately came away empty-handed and then faced the tall task of having to win three games in a row to stave off elimination.
That's a tough hill to climb both mentally and physically, and that proved to be true tonight - the Checkers couldn't grab ahold of the momentum, while the Phantoms rode the high of their marathon victory. Still, it was a valiant effort from a resilient Checkers club, right until the very end.
"It was a drain on the psyche a little bit, but I tried to do the best we could to get them boosted up and positive," Checkers head coach Mike Vellucci said. "I didn't see any physical tiredness at all. I thought the guys were engaged and ready to go. Lots of energy. Just couldn't get it by [Lyon]."
"There was no quit between us. We knew we could do it," Warren Foegele said. "We just came up short there."
"We had an awesome group of guys. There's so much character in that locker room, so much skill," Checkers captain Patrick Brown said. "It's a sour way to end it, but we worked so hard all year, and I'm proud of all those guys in that room right now."
2. Lyon Stands Tall … Again
After making 94 saves on 95 shots in the insanely long Game 4, Alex Lyon responded with an equally sharp effort in net tonight. He carried a shutout into the third period before Roland McKeown got the Checkers on the board nearly six minutes into the final frame. That goal mercifully snapped Lyon's shutout streak at 165:54, but the damage had already been done on the scoreboard. Lyon finished the game with 27 saves on s28 shots.
"He was definitely in the zone. We've got to give him a lot of credit," Vellucci said. "We had a lot of chances. … He was doing something right, and we were doing something right."
In the second period, with the Phantoms leading just 1-0, Lyon dropped to the ice on his stomach to deny Greg McKegg's breakaway bid. The Checkers failed to score on the ensuing power play, and Lehigh Valley stretched their lead to three goals before the end of the period.
"Their goalie played reall well. It was pretty hard to get any goals past him," Foegele said. "Just didn't get any bounces."
"We stuck with it the whole way. We ran into a hot goalie. Credit to that team. They played well. But, man, that goalie played awesome," Brown said. "Ours played awesome too. We couldn't crack him, but we stuck to it. I'm proud of the way the guys played. It's always tough ending the year on a loss."
3. Offense Hits a Wall
The Checkers dismantled the Phantoms 6-0 in Game 2 - the only game of the series in which Lyon did not play. In the other four games, Lyon and Lehigh Valley limited the AHL's most potent regular-season offense to just a goal per game.
That was the difference in the series.
"The effort has been there all year," Vellucci said. "These guys have played really well."
"We weren't able to create a lot of offense in tight. A lot of our shots were wide shots," Brown said. "We had to get more traffic and bodies to the blue paint, and we weren't able to do that."
"It's tighter hockey in playoff hockey. We knew that going into it," Foegele said. "We just had to keep creating chances, which I thought we did. We just couldn't find the net."
The handshake line dropped the curtain on the Checkers' 2017-18 season, a disappointing end to an otherwise very impressive campaign.
"For us first-year players and the team, just be proud of each other and the way we competed. For the first-year players, we learned the pro grind. That was one of the adjustments I definitely learned," Foegele said. "I thought our leaders did a good job for us."
"I think we had an awesome group of guys. Being a leader on this team was easy because we had such a good group of guys. Everyone led from all areas of the locker room. You don't need to be a captain to be a leader," Brown said. "We had rookies pushing the pace, getting us goals at the ends of games, staying positive, giving us hoo-rah's on the bench. Then we had veteran guys who led by example and did the right things at the right times. That's how we were able to make a playoff push. I'm proud of this group we had, and I had a ton of fun this year."
"A lot of guys had career years … you go down the list," Vellucci said. "We accomplished two things - one, we won, and two, we developed. It's a fine line in the American League, and I thought we accomplished both."