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Phantoms continue playoff push

When the Philadelphia Flyers lost to the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday, it ended their hopes of reaching the NHL playoffs.

For the Phantoms, their chase for a spot in the postseason continues on thanks to having picked up nine points in their last six games. A tough schedule over the season’s final seven games – including two games in Charlotte and two games at home against rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton - could make it difficult to move from sixth in the Atlantic Division to fourth, which would guarantee them a spot in the postseason. Needless to say, the Phantoms are going to need some help to pole vault up the standings between now and the regular season finale against Hartford on April 13.

For the optimists among us, here are some things to consider. To move into fifth place, the Phantoms need only to pass the Penguins and they face them twice at home this weekend. A sweep of those two games, or at least picking up three of a possible four points against the Pens like they did last week, would go a long way toward helping their playoff odds. Next would be the Providence Bruins, who are six points ahead of the Phantoms. Lehigh Valley has a game-in-hand over the Bruins and the two teams meet one more time in Providence on April 12th, the season’s penultimate game. Providence has two tough games this weekend with a home-and-home series against Bridgeport, the solid number-two team in the Atlantic Division.

For the pessimists among us, the Phantoms have those two games in Charlotte, clearly the best team in the Eastern Conference, then have to do damage against the Penguins and win that game against Providence. In addition to their game against each other, the Phantoms have six games against teams with a combined point total of 650, while the Bruins five other games are against teams with a combined 392 points.

One player who definitely appears to be among the optimists is goalie Alex Lyon. While the best game of his career came in last year’s AHL playoffs when he turned away 94 shots in a five-overtime marathon in Charlotte, his second-best performance may have been Saturday night in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton when he turned aside 42 shots in a 3-2 win in Cleveland. Most of the shots weren’t the garden variety slap shots from a distance; they were point-blank shots made by a team that consistently beat the Lehigh Valley defense. Two games earlier, Rochester peppered Lyon with 43 shots and the 26-year old turned away 40 of them to get the win.

Mike Huntebrinker arrived from the Reading Royals Saturday afternoon and was on the ice that night against Cleveland and wound up scoring the game-winner in the first round of the shootout. Pascal Laberge had a hat trick against Cleveland and added another goal in the win in Cleveland on Saturday. After returning from an injury, Laberge now has five goals and an assist in 11 games.

WAIT UNTIL NEXT YEAR... Joel Farabee, the Flyers first-round pick in the NHL Draft will likely wait until next season to join the Phantoms. The 19-year old had a huge freshman season at Boston University and the Flyers liked him enough to grab him in the first round of the draft even though he played just one season of college hockey. Farabee is rehabbing an undisclosed injury and the odds of him signing an amateur tryout deal to join the Phantoms this season are dwindling, but not quite dead according to team officials.

UP OR DOWN?... Nicolas Aube-Kubel is playing well for Lehigh Valley, posting two goals Friday night and an assist on Saturday. With the Flyers out of the playoffs and the Phantoms on life support, the question is where do the Flyers want him to play out the string? He could go up to Philadelphia to get a little ice time in the team’s final three games or he could stay with Lehigh Valley as they hope against hope for a postseason run.

WHAT IF?... Former Phantoms coach Scott Gordon is being praised for the job he’s done since taking over as the Flyers interim coach earlier in the season. At the same time that Gordon came to the Flyers, rookie goaltender Carter Hart also went to the NHL and has been nothing short of spectacular. Many fans and pundits in Philadelphia are wondering what could have been this season if Gordon and Hart were with the team all season. Gordon is the odds-on favorite to get the Flyers job long-term, but nothing has been made official.