By Tom Williams
The Youngstown Phantoms ended March with a four-game losing streak that ruined their hopes for a first-round playoff bye.
Now, the third-year USHL franchise is hoping to reverse its slump and secure home games for the first-round of the Clark Cup playoffs that will begin on April 16.
Tonight, the fourth-place Phantoms (30-19-7, 67 points) will try to shake their recent struggles when they welcome the seventh-place Chicago Steel (22-31-4, 48 points) to The Ice Zone in Boardman.
The game was originally scheduled to be played at the Covelli Centre but was moved when Sugarland was booked for a concert tonight.
Saturday at the Covelli Centre, the Phantoms will take on the second-place Indiana Ice (34-15-7, 75 points).
That game could mean a lot to both teams. The Phantoms’ magic number to clinch fourth place is one (point earned or point lost by fifth-place Cedar Rapids). Trailing the third-place Dubuque Fighting Saints by three points with four games remaining, the Phantoms still have an outside shot at third place.
Meanwhile, Indiana’s magic number for the bye is four (points earned by the Ice or lost by the Fighting Saints).
The schedule, however, is no friend. Next weekend, the Phantoms will close the regular season with two games against the Green Bay Gamblers (45-8-3, 93 points), the USHL’s strongest team.
Six teams from each conference qualify for the playoffs. The first two teams earn first-round byes while the other four play best-of-three series.
“We’re not really looking at home-ice advantage so much as we just want to get this thing back on track,” Phantoms coach Anthony Noreen said. “We’ll hopefully be getting some guys back in the lineup this weekend and get some wins.”
Injuries and illness prevented the Phantoms from dressing full lineups during the skid. Nine skaters were out for last weekend’s two losses in Green Bay.