By Greg Bates
In a must-win game for the Youngstown Phantoms, the players didn’t disappoint.
The Phantoms played Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series Sunday afternoon against the Green Bay Gamblers with more intensity and urgency than in the previous night’s 7-1 loss. Youngstown scored on all three of its power-play chances to help even the best-of-five series at 1-1 with a 5-3 victory at the Resch Center.
“There haven’t been many must-wins for us all season — this was the biggest game in the history of our franchise, there’s no doubt about it,” Phantoms coach Anthony Noreen said. “The exciting thing and the fun thing about this team has been there’s so many firsts. Every win we get in the playoffs is going to be a franchise record.”
A major key in the Game 2 victory was the play of goalie Matt O’Connor. The Boston University recruit was pulled in the first period of Game 1 after allowing four goals on 14 shots. On Sunday, O’Connor stopped 39 of 42 shots, including 24 in the third period.
“I thought he was great,” Noreen said. “I thought a big part of it was our guys did a really good job of blocking shots and keeping most of the shots to the outside. Bottom line against this team, they’re going to get a lot of shots on you. They’re just too good of a team to keep bottled up offensively.”
After Saturday’s blowout loss, the leaders in the Phantoms’ locker room stepped up and stressed to their teammates they needed to dictate the tempo in Game 2.
“[Game 1] we definitely stepped back a bit and let them control the game and just tried to get back to our game plan and get back to that gritty style we used to play when we’re successful,” O’Connor said. “I think the team did a great job in the third period to hold on and I obviously saw a lot of rubber, so it was nice to shut the door one save at a time.”
The Phantoms got on the board first as Ryan Lowney brought the puck into the Gamblers’ zone, made a defenseman commit and slid a pass in front of the crease to Dylan Margonari. Alone with Gamblers goalie Ryan McKay, Margonari put a move on McKay and went backhand for a pretty goal at 4:49. The Gamblers tied it at 1 just 41 seconds later on a Markus Lauridsen goal.
After Jordan Schmaltz gave the Gamblers a 2-1 lead at 3:35 of the second period, Youngstown went on its first power play of the game. Just 19 seconds into the man-advantage, the Phantoms’ Daniel Renouf passed cross ice to Soren Jonzzon, who buried the puck in the back of the net from the right wing circle.
The Phantoms took their second lead of the game, this time with another quick power-play goal. Sam Anas ripped a shot from the point and Austin Cangelosi cleaned up the rebound to make it 3-2 at 14:31 of the second period.
The Gamblers again tied it in the third on an Alex Broadhurst goal at 2:41. The rest of the way out was all Phantoms. Youngstown went on the power play for the third time and with 12 seconds remaining on the penalty, Jonzzon beat McKay from the left wing circle to make it 4-3.
With just 1:15 left in the period, the Phantoms had a 3-on-1 rush into the Gamblers zone and Margonari poked the puck into the net after an initial pad save.
The loss was just the 10th of the season for the Gamblers after notching 47 regular-season victories. Noreen is thrilled his team could steal a win on the road.
“If you told us at the beginning of the weekend we could come out of this split and go back home and have two at home, I think we would have taken it,” Noreen said.