Phantoms have a need for some wins in playoff push


STAFF REPORT

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YOUNGSTOWN

With 18 games remaining in their 60-game regular season, the Youngstown Phantoms’ chances of securing their first USHL postseason berth depend on stringing together a winning streak.

With their next seven games at the Covelli Centre, the Phantoms (15-23-4, 34 points) have an opportunity to separate themselves from the Waterloo Black Hawks (14-18-6, 34 points) in the race to earn the USHL’s final playoff seed in the Eastern Conference,

The long homestand begins tonight against the Chicago Steel (9-25-7, 25 points), the USHL’s worst team.

It will be the Phantoms’ second straight game against the Steel. Last Sunday, the Phantoms lost to the Steel in Chicago, 3-2.

“Even though we lost, I feel like we played really good against them considering what our schedule was like last week,” Phantoms coach Curtis Carr said.

When Sunday’s game ended, the Phantoms had played six times within 10 days so the Phantoms took time to recharge their batteries.

“The guys have been better and sharper during practice,” Carr said. “We have made our practices a little more competitive by throwing in some small area games forcing them to compete and score some goals.

“We need to continue to put over guys in those situations so they keep those competitive juices flowing all the time and not turning them off and on.”

On Saturday, the Phantoms will face off against the Muskegon Lumberjacks (17-18-7, 41 points), the Eastern Conference’s fourth-place team.

This season, the top six teams in each conference qualify for the postseason. However, only the top four seeds get home games.

With goaltender Matt O’Connor healthy again after a hip flexor, Carr can choose between the USHL rookie who has a committment to Boston University and Jordan Tibbett, who is back in the USHL after playing four games last fall at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa.

Before last Saturday’s 4-3 shootout win over the Lincoln Stars at the Covelli Centre, O’Connor had not played since Jan. 14. His last win came on Dec. 4.

“I’d been playing with it for about four weeks,” said O’Connor of the injury. “I took a week off to finally get rid of it. Nowe, we have two healthy goalies for the last part of the season and hopefully the playoffs.”

Another matter of concern for the Phantoms is that while they are tied with the Black Hawks for sixth-place, Waterloo has 22 games to play.

Carr said the Phantoms shouldn’t count on the Steel laying down.

“It can be a dangerous situation for us,” Carr said. “We have stressed to the guys that they [Steel] are coming in with nothing to lose with no pressure on them.

“We have reminded our players that we were in this spot last season with our guys trying to prove that they could play at this level and come back and contribute this season,” Carr said.

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