ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- The Delaware Valley may be experiencing playoff withdrawal, but it's definitely getting a taste of it in the Lehigh Valley.
The Phantoms have returned to the AHL postseason for the first time since 2009, the franchise's final season at the Spectrum in Philadelphia.
"Everywhere you go, people are talking about it," head coach Scott Gordon said Wednesday. "It's great for our organization, great for our players. I think every player benefits from playing in the playoffs on a bigger stage and against tougher competition."
The Phantoms will host their first-round best-of-five series against the Hershey Bears, last season's Calder Cup finalist, who finished four points behind Lehigh Valley in the standings. The two regional rivals squared off a whopping 12 times during the regular season, with the Phantoms winning the series, 7-4-1. The new series starts Friday with puck drop at 7:05 p.m.
"They're a big rival," defenseman Sam Morin said. "It's going to be a good series. We learned to hate each other, that's for sure. I think they have a really good team and we have a really good team. It's gonna be fun."
More impressive was the Phantoms' one-year turnaround that saw Gordon's team go from 12th place in the Atlantic Division to second place with 101 points, marking a 26-point improvement.
"It's a resilient group," captain Colin McDonald said. "I think we learned a lot from last year. It was a tough year. We had a lot of young guys last year. I thought they made the commitment from Day 1 of summer to put themselves in position to try and make the playoffs."
With Anthony Stolarz lost for the season, the Phantoms now will be leaning heavily on goaltender Alex Lyon, who led Lehigh Valley in starts, wins, goals against and save percentage in his first season coming from Yale University.
"It was a totally interesting, bizarre roller coaster of a year," Lyon said. "I feel like it's been a good test for me as an individual and I've definitely grown."
Gordon said he expects 20-year-old defenseman Philippe Myers to join the team sometime during the playoffs, but he wasn't sure when exactly. Myers just completed his season with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in the QMJHL. The Flyers signed him as a free agent in 2015.
The Phantoms currently have 12 Flyers draft picks on their roster, including Carter Hart, who's with the team following the conclusion of his junior season. Hart was the Flyers' second-round pick, and the first goaltender taken in the 2016 NHL entry draft.