Phantoms stifle Steel to force deciding contest in Chicago

Phantoms stifle Steel to force deciding contest in Chicago

By Tom Williams


One of the Youngstown Phantoms’ strongest defensive performances in their eight-season history has pushed the top-seeded Chicago Steel to the brink of elimination.

In Saturday’s must-win Game 4 at the Covelli Centre, the fourth-seeded Phantoms throttled the Steel’s potent offense for 50 minutes, then hung on for a thrilling 3-2 victory.

Photo Gallery: Phantoms vs Chicago Steel Game 4

“Relentless,” said head coach Brad Patterson of his team’s defense, which limited the Steel to just eight shots on goal in the first two periods.

“Game 5 is going to be intense,” said Evan Wisocky who scored the game-winning goal with 7:27 remaining. “This is where we want to be.”

The Phantoms will play the Steel on Tuesday night at Fox Valley Ice Arena in Geneva, Ill. The winner will advance to the USHL’s Eastern Conference Finals against the Dubuque Fighting Saints.

Troy Loney, Phantoms co-owner, said that if the Phantoms win on Tuesday, they will travel continue on to Iowa to get ready for Game 1 on Friday. Games 3 and 4 would be at the Covelli Centre on May 5-6.

But if the Steel win Tuesday’s game, they’ll host the Fighting Saints in the first two games next weekend.

Last weekend, the Steel were at home for 4-1 and 6-0 victories. The script flipped once the Phantoms returned home.

Wisocky’s goal gave the Phantoms a 3-1 lead, but the Steel struck 50 seconds later when Eduards Tralmaks pounced on a giveaway in the Phantoms’ zone and beat goaltender Ivan Kulbakov with a quick shot.

The Steel kept the pressure on. With 69 seconds remaining, goaltender Ales Stezka was lifted for an extra skater. The Phantoms tightened up as the clock ticked down, not allowing one shot to reach Kulbakov.

“We got back to what we do [well],” said defenseman Brandon Estes, who was on the ice with partner Michael Karow for the final minute. “This was the biggest game of the year for us, so to shut them down like that is huge.

“We worked on [defense] in practice all week, holding our blue line, holding the red line. We know they want to carry pucks in, they really want to dump pucks, so making them skate through us is definitely what we want them to do.”

Just as they did in Friday’s 4-1 victory, the Phantoms scored first and took control.

“That first goal was big,” Wisocky said.

With 5:04 remaining in the first period, Karow blasted the puck from near the blue line and Austin Pooley deflected it past Stezka for a 1-0 lead.

“Michael gets pucks to the net so well,” Estes said. “When it comes off his stick, I [feel] it’s going to the net. I trust him a lot.”

A minute into the second period, Coale Norris scored an unassisted goal for a 2-0 lead. Wisocky said the deficit and the inability to mount much of an offense frustrated the Steel.

”Once they get whiny, that’s when they are at their worst, when they are just running around,” Wisocky said.

Things became very interesting in the third period when the Steel got their groove back. With 9:56 to go, Tralmaks found Marc Johnstone alone in the slot and he beat Kulbakov to make it 2-1.

Werbik then set up Wisocky’s goal.

“[Alex Esposito] drove the net, kind of cut to the middle and the [defenseman] didn’t know who to take — me or Al,” said Wisocky, who skated wide to find an opening. “And I fired it in — I saw the weak side pretty open.”

Patterson credited the Steel for good scoring opportunities.

“But our guys held strong,” Patterson said.

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