Alex Lyon backstops Lehigh Valley to 94-save win in longest AHL game in history
As the clock continued to run down in the fifth overtime period at Bojangles’ Coliseum early Thursday morning, the announcers for the hometown Charlotte Checkers marveled at a funny twist of fate.
Their opponents, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, had been careful with starter Alex Lyon’s games throughout the season, concerned about his durability over a long, hard year.
Now, with 94 shots stopped and an eventual 146:48 of continuous ice time under his belt, he was making it very clear: if the Phantoms walked away from their Game 4 tied at two games apiece with the Checkers, it certainly wasn’t going to be his fault.
The two clubs set a record for the longest AHL game in league history on Wednesday night and into Thursday morning, when the Philadelphia Flyers and Carolina Hurricanes affiliates broke a record set in 2008 at 142:58 in official scoreboard time. The record, set by the Albany River Rats (Carolina’s then-affiliate) and the Philadelphia Phantoms (Philly’s then-affiliate), was surpassed by an eventual 3:50 of game play as the Phantoms took a 3-1 series lead.
The story of the night in any other game would have been Alex Nedeljkovic, Charlotte’s starter. His 51 saves on 53 shots was good for a .962 save percentage in all situations, and saw him deal with entire overtime periods facing just one shot, or five shots, while still managing to keep his head in the game.
In this game, though, he took a back seat to Alex Lyon.
Lyon’s 94 saves was just four shy of the AHL record, set by the losing goaltender – Michael Leighton – in an eventual 3-2 quintuple-overtime loss during that historic matchup.
What makes his night that much more impressive, though, was that he fell just four saves shy of Leighton, but allowed two fewer goals; after letting Charlotte’s Patrick Brown score an even-strength tally at 6:52 in the second period, he didn’t let another puck past until the buzzer finally sounded at about 1:10 in the morning the day after the two teams started playing.
— AHL (@TheAHL) May 10, 2018
Lyon has been an unlikely success story from the very start.
Standing at just 6’1″ and 185 lbs, the 25-year-old Baudette, Minnesota native spent two years in the USHL before hitting the NCAA with Yale University in 2013. Nearly 21 when he made his college hockey debut, Lyon went undrafted and sat a tier below the superstars of American goaltending for his age group; he was highly regarded in his home state and played well in the USHL and USHS systems, but didn’t get quite the same attention as guys like John Gibson, Garret Sparks, Connor Hellebuyck, or even current Flyers teammate Anthony Stolarz.
Like his fellow high school hockey disciple in Hellebuyck, though, Lyon has risen through the ranks on the back of quality, consistent numbers at each and every level. He posted a .948 save percentage in the regular season his final year of high school play for Lake of the Woods High, a .916 in 50 games his second year for the USHL’s Omaha Lancers, and then a .939 save percentage his sophomore year at Yale to earn him a nod as the third goaltender for Team USA at the 2015 World Championships.
When he followed that up with a .936 in 31 games for Yale as a junior, he opted to forgo a senior season and sign with the Flyers right away; he’s been there ever since, slowly pushing his way to prominence for the Metropolitan Division club.
It’s hasn’t been an entirely smooth road. In just two AHL playoff games last season, Lyon posted an .882 save percentage and allowed four goals on 34 total shots faced.
This year, though, he’s been good for a .913 regular season save percentage alongside veteran John Muse and fellow tandem starter Dustin Tokarski, and he managed to earn an 11-game call-up in which he recorded a .905 save percentage while going 4-2-1 behind the not-always easy Flyers defense.
Now, he and his club sit up 3-1 in their series against Charlotte, just one win away from a trip to the Eastern Conference Final in the Calder Cup playoffs.
If they win Game 5, they’ll face the now-well rested Toronto Marlies, who performed a clean sweep in their own second-round series and now patiently await their opponent.
Even if they end up dropping the series in seven games, though, this one went down in history – literally – and put Lyon’s name just a little larger on the map. And while his game still needs some tweaks here and there, reining him in when he’s too eager to face a shot and getting him off his posts a little earlier, it’s hard not to take a closer look at the guy who managed to turn away almost 100 AHL-quality shots and win his team the longest game the league has ever known.
— AHL (@TheAHL) May 10, 2018