Phantoms rally to force Game 4
By Tom Williams
Trailing by two goals and with the offseason just 20 minutes away thanks to the USHL’s best team, the Youngstown Phantoms maintained their cool.
“I said, ‘[let’s] go out and get 20 shots,’ ” forward Markus McCrea said of the second intermission. “And we had 25 in the first 10 minutes.”
Actually, it was 18 in 12 minutes. The result was stunning.
With their backs to the wall, the Phantoms roared to life with the most magical half-minute in the franchise’s four-year history. Cam Brown and McCrea scored goals 27 seconds apart to tie the game and John Padulo netted the game-winner as the Phantoms stunned the Dubuque Fighting Saints, 4-3, on Monday before 1,200 boisterous fans at the Covelli Centre.
The Fighting Saints suffered their first loss of the postseason, but lead the best-of-five Eastern Conference final series, 2-1. Game 4 is tonight at 7:15 at the Covelli Centre.
“We’ve [trailed] all playoffs, we’re kind of used to it,” said Padulo, who deflected Sam Anas’ shot from the point for his power-play goal. “Obviously, you always want to play with the lead but we didn’t quit.
“We came in here second intermission and we did not put our heads down,” Padulo said. “We didn’t pout, we didn’t feel bad for ourselves, we got our chins up and said we’re going to make this a fight to the end.”
Trailing 3-1, Brown ignited the crowd by starting the remarkable comeback. Brown took a pass from defenseman Ryan Lowney and snapped it past Saints goaltender Arthur Brey for his fifth goal in seven playoff games.
“It was a great play from Lowney,” said Padulo, who originally was credited with the goal. “He hit Brown kinda in the back door where he’s always living, it seems like. It was a good shot, kind of trickled off the goalie’s back. It was a big momentum changer for us.”
Twenty-seven seconds later, McCrea tied the game, set up by linemates Alfred Larsson and JJ Piccinich.
“Me and Picks and Alfie really work the puck down low real well,” McCrea said. “[Larsson] came behind the net and I pushed off the guy in front, got a little space. He made a perfect pass and I put it under the [crossbar].”
The Phantoms continued to sizzle, outshooting the Saints 18-2 in the third period until McCrea was penalized.
After skating off the penalty, Saints defenseman Joseph Manno was caught highsticking Lowney, giving the Phantoms an extra skater.
“It was a double-deflection,” Padulo said of his game-winner. “Sammy shot it and it hit their guy and then off me, and it went in. It was a lucky goal — right place at the right time.”
Phantoms head coach Anthony Noreen was not surprised Padulo came through in the clutch.
“Best player on the ice,” Noreen said. “He’s custom-built for the playoffs.
“He was the difference in tonight’s game. Non-stop, relentless attack — that’s what we’re about and he embodies that.”
Turnovers in their own zone led to the Phantoms’ deficit as Evan Janssen and Peter Quenneville scored 100 seconds apart in the first period. Both were on two-on-one breaks.
Austin Cangelosi got one goal back with his first of the playoffs near the end of the period.
But five minutes into the second period, Mike Szmatula banked the puck off the far goalpost for a 3-1 lead.
Phantoms goaltender Sean Romeo made 21 saves. The Phantoms peppered Brey with 40 shots, including 22 in the final 20 minutes.
“We know if we push shots at him, he doesn’t catch things cleanly,” Padulo said. “He always gives up big, juicy rebounds. We’re going to make him work for every save he has to make.
“He did play well, he made some big saves, but we’re going to keep peppering shots and make him steal a game for them. He might be their weakest [link] and we’re going to make him steal a game.”