GLENS FALLS -- The Adirondack Phantoms skated to center ice of the Glens Falls Civic Center and rose their sticks. The crowd of 3,795 was already on its feet waiting for them.
At one time in this once dismal season, it was hard to imagine this team ever getting a standing ovation.
Wednesday night it was hard to decide just what this one was for: a seventh straight win on home ice, Michael Ryan's latest hat trick, or a celebration of a season brought back from the dead.
Adirondack beat Albany 4-1 to conclude its home schedule by clinching the trophy presented to the winner of the season series between the clubs.
The Phantoms won nine of their last 11 games at home and earned points in 15 of the final 16 games at the Civic Center. After going nearly two seasons without a hat trick at home, they had three in four games as they outscored their opponents 22-6 over the final four-game homestand.
"I think players are getting comfortable playing here," Adirondack coach Joe Paterson said. "They made this rink a hard rink to play in and they have to be proud of that."
Once on pace for the league's worst season in history after winning four of their first 29 games, the Phantoms improved to 24-14-2-6 since Paterson took over on Dec. 20.
They've been buoyed by veteran pickups like Ryan, who joined the team in December after missing most of last season with an injury.
Ryan's hat trick was his second of the season and tied him with Denis Hamel for the team lead with 25 goals.
"I wish I could have started the year here. But it is what it is," Ryan said. "The only thing we can do is play as well as we can until Sunday and hopefully guys learn a lot this year. Guys have obviously made huge strides and gotten better."
Ryan has been particularly lethal against Albany, the city where he had an all-star year in 2008-09 with the River Rats. Ryan has nine goals and six assists in nine games against the Devils.
After the Devils took a 1-0 lead in the first, Ryan scored the next three goals, completing the hat trick with 2:26 remaining.
"He's just a good player," Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said. "He works, he competes, I like the way he plays. He's scored one-timers on the power play, he scores in front of the net, he goes to those areas. He's played well against us."
The Phantoms and Devils finished the series with six wins each. The Phantoms recorded more points in the series, however, and won the trophy that goes to the winner of the local rivalry.
"It's a little something you can hang your hat on," Ryan said. "Albany gave it to these guys pretty good last year. There wasn't much of a series, so I think it was pretty cool that it went to the last game to see who the champs were. ... There was a little bit of everything in those 12 games, a lot of fights, a lot of goals. I think the fans got their money's worth, that's for sure."
Perhaps more importantly, the Phantoms climbed ahead of Albany and into seventh place in the East Division. With three games remaining, they trail Syracuse by one for sixth place.
This one looked daunting as the Phantoms officially lost their stellar goaltender Michael Leighton to Philadelphia earlier in the day when he cleared waivers. But they got Ben Holmstrom back from the Flyers and Johan Backlund made 19 saves to earn his first win since March 6.
"For Backlund, he's been sitting, waiting, and they obviously wanted to play hard for him," Paterson said. "It was just a good total team effort and a good job by Backlund after not playing for quite a while to go in there and get the win."
Loose pucks: Zac Rinaldo got his second straight game misconduct in the first period ... Luke Pither and Stefan Legein were healthy scratches ... The Phantoms signed goaltender Ryan Rondeau to an amateur tryout contract to back up Backlund.