By Tom Williams
With their two best defensemen serving misconduct penalties down the stretch, the Youngstown Phantoms staged their most dramatic finish of the season against the USHL’s best power-play unit.
In the final five minutes of Friday night’s hockey game at the Covelli Centre, the Phantoms killed off two Green Bay Gamblers’ power plays then scored two empty-net goals for a 5-2 victory.
Sam Anas’ goal with 5:45 remaining in regulation was the game-winner.
“That’s about as much adversity as you could have in the last six minutes of a game,” Phantoms head coach Anthony Noreen said. “Against the league’s best power-play [unit], giving them two back-to-back chances, they had maybe two shots.
“The guys did a great job in shot lanes and being desperate.”
Goaltender Sean Romeo, who made 25 saves, said, “We definitely made it interesting. With [Ryan] Lowney and Dan [Renouf] in the box, it made it that much tougher but that last five minutes showed what type of character we have.”
Trailing 2-1 in the third period, the Phantoms tied the game right after John Padulo was sprung from the penalty box after a perfect penalty kill (no shots allowed).
Nathan Walker’s outlet pass set up a two-on-one breakaway for Padulo and Anas.
“Pads came flying out of the box and it came right to him,” Anas said. “I skated as fast as I could, he passed it to me.
“The defenseman [Barrett Keib} kind of slid with his stick up a little so I put it right under his stick [to Padulo] and he had an open net,” Anas said. “I was thinking about shooting it, but then I saw he was right there wide open.” Padulo, who called it a “read-and-react” play, said, “The effort in the third period was outstanding.”
Padulo called the win — the Phantoms’ first in five games against the Gamblers — huge.
“They are a team were are chasing in the standings and that was a four-point game for us,” Padulo said.
The Phantoms (21-19-0, 42 points) won for the eighth time in their past 11 games and remain in fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings. Green Bay (24-14-3, 51 points) is third.
Anas’ game-winner came after a brilliant pass by Walker.
“I thought for sure Nathan was going to shoot,” Anas said of his teammate who was skating through the slot about 10 feet from Gamblers goaltender Richard Ullberg. “Almost blindfolded, he found me backdoor and I was able to put it in.”
Bedlam broke out in the final five minutes when Luke Stork was sent off for two minutes and Renouf received a 10-minute misconduct.
Upon release, Stork raced into the Phantoms’ zone and was called for crosschecking. Lowney also was sent off for 10 minutes.
“Those are probably the last two guys we want in the box during a penalty kill,” said Noreen, praising their replacements Jimmy Mazza and Kale Bennett. “These are guys who probably haven’t really killed [penalties] in weeks, maybe months and they did a great job.
“I don’t think our PK missed a beat at any point,” Noreen said.
The second penalty kill ended with Ullberg lifted for a sixth skater. Josh Nenadal and Anas scored empty-net goals. Cam Brown scored the other Phantoms’ goal.