|Ice Hockey Spotlight:
Phantoms are Calder Cup Champions
Friday, June 10, 2005
By Al Cohen
Philadelphia Phantoms Correspondent
Jon Sim and Patrick Sharp each scored twice tonight to help the Phantoms complete a four-sweep of the Chicago Wolves with a 5-2 victory in Game Four of the Calder Cup Finals. An AHL playoff-record 20,103 fans attended the game at the Wachovia Center.
Antero Niittymaki made 28 saves on 30 shots to earn the win and clinch the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the most valuable player of the 2005 Calder Cup Playoffs. Niittymaki finished the postseason with a 15-5 record and 1.75 goals-against average, including stopping 132-of-136 shots faced against Chicago.
"I think we played great defense the whole series and our penalty killing was a lot better than theirs," said Niittymaki. "We were a better team. It was an unbelievable year and it feels really good."
The Phantoms won their second Calder Cup crown exactly seven years after their first, as the team defeated the Saint John Flames in six games to capture the 1998 title in just its second year of existence.
"This is the best feeling I've ever had," said Phantoms forward Eric Meloche, who played in the 2004 Calder Cup Finals for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. "This crowd was unbelievable. Philly likes champions and right now we ARE the champions. Philadelphia is a championship city once again."
Ben Stafford also scored and Freddy Meyer recorded two assists as Philadelphia set an AHL record for most consecutive home wins in a single postseason. The Phantoms went 11-0 on home ice during the playoffs.
"I really think this team was deserving of winning," said Phantoms head coach John Stevens, who was the captain of the 1998 squad. "It's really exciting as a player, but as a coach you just never relax. All I wanted to see was my players and the excitement in their faces. These guys have worked so hard. We thought we had a group that was capable of special things."
After holding the Wolves scoreless in the opening period for the fourth straight game, Philadelphia struck four times in the second stanza to take control.
"We knew that they were going to come out and push us hard," said Sim about heading into the second period. "We just had to push back as much as we could and hold our own. When we got the opportunities to score, we did that and it worked out perfect."
Sharp gave Philadelphia a 1-0 lead 5:32 into the period when Randy Jones fed him for a breakaway from the blue line. Sharp's first shot was blocked by Chicago goaltender Kari Lehtonen, but he alertly placed the rebound into the back of the net for his seventh playoff goal.
The margin grew to 2-0 at 12:42 when Meyer hit Sim for a 2-on-1 rush. Darting down the near boards, Sim used Boyd Kane as a decoy before burying his ninth goal past Lehtonen.
Stafford widened the gap to three goals at 18:05 as he followed in the carom of a backhand attempt by R.J. Umberger. Meyer also assisted on Stafford's second goal of the postseason.
With the sellout crowd in an uproar and the Phantoms on a 5-on-3 advantage late in the period, Sim tallied his second goal of the night during a flurry in front of the Chicago crease. Jeff Carter and Sharp received assists on the play at the 19:47 mark.
Chicago finally got on the board 4:37 into the third on Steve Maltais' power-play goal. Sharp answered with a shorthanded empty-netter at 8:49 before the Wolves' Lonny Bohonos capped the scoring with 3:53 remaining.
Lehtonen finished with 25 saves for Chicago, which won the Calder Cup in 2002.
Phantoms Notes: Joey Hope, David Printz, Charlie Cook, Tony Voce, Alexandre Picard, Ryan Ready and Eric Meloche were scratched ... Tonight's crowd was the second largest in AHL history ... The Phantoms only allowed six first-period goals in 21games this postseason ... Philadelphia improved to 14-2 all-time in Game Four of a playoff series, 15-1 this postseason when scoring at least two goals in a game and 17-1 this year when wearing its purple third jerseys.