By Tom Williams
The Youngstown Phantoms’ biggest win has the defending USHL champions on the ropes.
Cam Brown and Markus McCrea beat Green Bay Gamblers goaltender Tony Kujava in the first 80 seconds of the second period to propel the Phantoms to Saturday’s 4-2 victory in Game 3 of their best-of-five USHL playoff series.
The Phantoms lead the series, 2-1. A win today at the Covelli Centre would send the Phantoms to the Eastern Conference final for the first time.
“They’re not done yet,” defenseman Eric Sweetman said after the Phantoms’ penalty killers went 4-for-4 against the league’s second-best power play unit.
Phantoms head coach Anthony Noreen agrees.
“I told the guys we have 10 minutes to enjoy this one,” Noreen said. “Let’s come back with the exact same mindset tomorrow — attack from the second the puck drops.”
After Sheldon Dries gave the Gamblers a 1-0 lead in the first period, Brown’s first goal, a power-play tally from Austin Cangelosi and Sam Anas, tied the game.
“It was a perfect pass [from Cangelosi] — all I had to do was put my stick [down],” Brown said of his deflection.
His second man-advantage tally came just 23 seconds into the second period. Inside the faceoff circle to Kujava’s right, Cangelosi snapped a pass over to Brown in the other circle. His snapshot gave the Phantoms their first early lead of the series.
“It was a good feeling,” Brown said, calling Cangelosi “an unbelievable player — he held [their defenders] off both times and basically gave me gifts.”
That emotion felt even better 57 seconds later when McCrea stunned the Gamblers by nudging the puck under Kujava’s sprawled body. The puck trickled into the net for a 3-1 lead.
“That was awesome; that really got us going,” Brown said.
In the final minute of the second period, Anas delivered the dagger. Luke Stork carried the puck into the high slot then sent a backhand to Anas ,whose moves pulled Kujava out of position.
Midway through the third period, Green Bay’s Sebastian Weberg scored to cut the Phantoms’ lead to two. But Phantoms goaltender Sean Romeo stopped the other four shots the Gamblers managed in the final period to seal the victory.
“Biggest win of my junior career so far,” said Romeo who made 26 saves and has limited the Gamblers to two goals in the past two games.
A key moment came in the first period when Green Bay led 1-0. John Padulo’s restraint led to the tying goal as he resisted retaliating against Kevin Irwin during a skirmish in the Gamblers’ zone. Brown’s first goal was scored while Irwin was in the penalty box for roughing.
“I thought he was baiting him,” Romeo said of Irwin. “Padulo, he’s not afraid to mix it up and get in there, so for him to skate away shows how disciplined our team is and how focused we are on the end goal.”
The Phantoms’ penalty killers have stopped eight of Green Bay’s power-play chances.
“That’s awesome against that power play,” Sweetman said. “They are one of the best.
“But the job is not done,” Sweetman said. “It’s not even close to being done.”
Poised for their first best-of-five series win in their four-year history, Brown said the Phantoms don’t want to go back to Green Bay on Tuesday.
“We really want to get it done [today],” Brown said. “We’re all excited for Game 4.”
In last year’s playoff series, Green Bay won Game 3 by a 6-3 score, then ended the series the next night. This time, the Phantoms have that opportunity.
“It’s completely different but a better feeling,” said Sweetman, who credited Noreen for the reversal. “He watches [so much video], he know what to do. When we listen to him, we shut them down.”