Phantoms 4, Devils 2 4/21
There was little celebrating in the locker room. No post-game victory music blaring. Not a whole lot of smiles. Not the kind of usual energy you might expect to see when a team picks up the victory.
They will go out as winners, but with the caveat of knowing they will not be one of the 16 teams vying for the Calder Cup in the playoffs that begin later this week. As American Hockey League equipment managers will be packing bags for trips to cities like Providence, Manchester, Hershey and Wilkes-Barre, the Phantoms will be packing up their apartments and moving home for the summer.
"It’s a tough break to miss the playoffs," said Phantoms center Marcel Noebels, who scored a power-play goal to begin the comeback. "It’s always something you want to play. It’s what we’ve worked for all summer and all season and then you’re going to miss the best part of the season."
There are a number of things that went wrong for the Phantoms this season, and you can read more about that in a story that's going to run later this week, but the discussion has to begin and end with the fact that the team just didn't score enough goals. They finished with 182, excluding the five they got for winning five shootouts, which shattered the previous franchise low of 193 set during 2005-06.
It's also the fewest goals scored by any Philadelphia Flyers American Hockey League affiliate. Ever.
They also had a bad record against the Devils, who went 8-3-0-1 against Adirondack but 23-29-1-11 against the rest of the American Hockey League. They lost 10 straight games on the road. There were two stretches where they won just one of their eight games. Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier, who had factored into roughly 60 percent of their goals through mid-January, got called up to the NHL.
They played from behind too much, and from too early in games. They were 5-24-2-1 when trailing after one period of play, compared to 14-4-0-1 when winning after the same amount of time. Today was a notable exception. With a five-month summer looming ahead of them, they stormed back from a 1-0 first-period deficit with four straight goals to go out with an element of resiliency to their game.
“The first period wasn’t exactly what we wanted. We came out a little slow. That was something the coaches talked about to us,” said Kessel, who had the first multi-goal game of his AHL career. “This is the last game as a team. Some of the guys won’t be back here, obviously, next year. … We all came together and decided ‘Last game, let’s give it 40 minutes with everything we’ve got. After that, you’ve got five months of rest.’”
Noebels scored on a backhander 6:09 into the second period after Kyle Flanagan dug a puck out of the left wing corner. Noebels had his back turned to the net and just slid it toward the goal. It found its way in. Rob Bordson gave the Phantoms the lead a little more than nine minutes when Garrett Roe won another puck battle along the board and found him in the left-wing circle for a one-timer that clanked in off the post. Kessel made it 3-1 when he joined the rush and banged home Brandon Alderson's rebound at the 19:02 mark, then chased Devils goalie Keith Kinkaid 3:02 into the third.
It was the first time the Phantoms scored four straight goals since a March 30 win against Bridgeport.
“We’re here to be professionals,” Phantoms coach Terry Murray said, “and to play the game right through to the last whistle. … It was a game that I wanted to pour everything in, leave everything on the ice and get a win to finish the season.”
There was also an element of physicality to their game that was refreshing to see. Mark Alt got leveled along the right-wing board and Garrett Roe immediately jumped to his defense, wrestling with the 6-foot-4, 205-pound Mike Hoeffel. Roe is generally listed at 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds.
They didn't get fighting majors, nor did Derek Mathers for his psuedo-bout with Cam Janssen. I'm not sure either of them wound up throwing a punch in that one before they fell to the ice. I asked Mathers if he was upset that that didn't technically count as a fight since it was his first real test against an elite AHL heavyweight -- a guy who'd you put in the same ranks as a Joel Rechlicz or a Brett Gallant.
"It happens," Mathers said. "There's next year."
Yes, there is.
There's more from Kessel, Noebels and Murray in the print story, so check that out tomorrow.
Stay tuned for some more blog updates throughout the off-season. I'll probably count down some of Adirondack's top moments of the season, so stay on the lookout for those. Later this week I'll also take a look at who is under contract for next year and who isn't, and the potential for roster turnover.
I know you have a choice in your Adirondack Phantoms coverage, so thanks for sticking with us.
Until next time,