After making 94 saves in a five-overtime marathon victory over the Charlotte Checkers, Lehigh Valley Phantoms goaltender Alex Lyon, a pending free agent, should be giving the Philadelphia Flyers something to think about.
The morning after playing the longest and most memorable game of his life, Alex Lyon couldn’t even fathom the sense of despair and disappointment the Charlotte Checkers must be feeling today. And thanks to his heroics, he doesn’t have to.
Lyon, a 25-year-old, undrafted, Yale-educated goalie from Baudette, Minn., helped his Lehigh Valley Phantoms team make American League history and put them firmly in the driver’s seat of their second-round series with 94 saves on 95 shots in a five-overtime marathon, the longest game in AHL history. Lyon stopped 40 shots in regulation time alone, then set aside another 54 in the 86 minutes and 48 seconds of overtime, before Alex Krushelnyski (son of former NHLer Mike) scored at 6:48 of the fifth overtime to give his team a 2-1 win. That gave the Phantoms a 3-1 lead over the Checkers in their best-of-seven series, with Game 5 going Saturday night in Charlotte.
Lyon will welcome the two days off. Fortunately, he brought his Xbox on the trip with him and was planning to spend most of Thursday in his hotel room gaming and sleeping.
“I think right now, we’re just so happy we won that game,” Lyon said. “It’s a huge, huge relief. I can’t imagine being on the other side of it. I just can’t imagine. I hate to say it, but you really have to feel for (Charlotte goalie Alex) Nedeljkovic. He played a hell of a game. It really got to the point where you’re competing with him, but we’re also all sharing this moment together.”
As the game went on, Lyon said he and his teammates began to embrace the opportunity they had, knowing that they were becoming part of something much bigger than just a Calder Cup playoff game. But Lyon managed to retain his focus on the matter at hand, never thinking much beyond making the next save. “It was 95 shots, but it was only one shot at a time,” he said. “I guess that’s how you approach three games in one night. I think we would all be remiss if we didn’t appreciate it in some capacity while it’s going on.”
He probably didn’t have much time to think about anything other than playing, since his team was outshot by a 54-29 margin in the five overtime periods. And it wasn’t as though he was facing a crew of career minor leaguers, either. Valentin Zykov, who impressed in a short stint with the Carolina Hurricanes, had nine shots in the game, as did top prospect Haydn Fleury. Warren Foegele, who scored 28 goals as a rookie this season and also got some time with the Hurricanes, had seven shots.
“We had played the night before, which was crazy,” Lyon said. “After the second overtime, it just got to the point where it’s like, ‘OK, this feels like more than hockey, so it’s OK to loosen up and appreciate what’s going on here.’ We had to start drinking Cokes and (teammate) Mike Vecchione’s aunt brought him brownies for after the game and we started eating those after the second overtime.”
You might remember Lyon from earlier this season when he was called up to the Philadelphia Flyers for his first NHL action. And he acquitted himself pretty well, appearing in 11 games and going 4-2-1 with a .905 save percentage. And if Lyon wanted to make an impression on the Flyers, he could not have picked a better time to do it. He’s a restricted free agent this summer and will almost certainly be looking for a one-way deal. But this is where things get a little complicated. The Flyers already have Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth under contract for next season, not to mention another RFA netminder in Petr Mrazek, but no goaltender displayed much consistency this season and each seemed to fall into that abyss that seems to swallow up goalies in Philadelphia.
Meanwhile, the Flyers have on the horizon Carter Hart, who led Canada to a gold medal at the World Junior Championship and established himself as one of the best players in junior hockey this season. Ideally, the Flyers would like to have Hart play a year in the minors and would want him to get the majority of the starts. Where that leaves Lyon is uncertain at the moment, but he certainly isn’t hurting his cause by putting up a .958 save percentage in the playoffs. If you hope really hard, it’s not outrageous to think that the Goaltending Black Hole™ in Philadelphia might no longer exist.
Lyon, meanwhile, is focused on getting his team as far as it can go in the AHL playoffs. A win Saturday would put them in the Eastern Conference final against the Toronto Marlies and would pit the top two teams in the league against one another. The Marlies finished this season with a .737 winning percentage, while the Phantoms were .684.
“The only way you can approach it is to live in the present moment and everything else takes care of itself,” Lyon said. “If we win the Calder Cup, everybody is better off. It would be easy to let the depth chart and the contract get to me, but that’s just wasted energy.”
And this is coming from a guy who, with his heroics Wednesday night, knows a little something about not wasting energy.
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