Phantoms win decisive contest over Madison, 8-4, advance to Eastern Conference semifinals

Staff photo/ Brian Yauger Phantoms forward Grant Young reaches in to make a move on the puck as Madison's Nathan Tobey tries to make a move up the ice.

YOUNGSTOWN — With how the regular season series went between the Youngstown Phantoms and Madison Capitols, it’s only fitting that their respective playoff destinies hinged on a do-or-die Game 3.

Like their last regular season meeting, the Phantoms took the finale in an 8-4 Youngstown victory Wednesday night at the Covelli Centre.

“We certainly like to make it interesting,” Phantoms coach Ryan Ward said. I’m fairly certain that the guys think I’m overweight or something. They’re trying to check my blood pressure. But we’re still standing. It was good. Good to get the series win, obviously resilient with a young group going through this, it’s going to help them now and in the future.

“I thought they did a great job. … Our start, we were on fire. That was the biggest thing we talked about this morning is the start can win us the game. It didn’t win us the game but it got us out there. I’m proud of the guys, proud of our leadership, proud of obviously some different guys stepping up and getting the job done.”

That hot start came from forward Ryan Rucinski, who scored his first-ever USHL hat trick in the win.

Rucinski kicked things off for the Phantoms, scoring his first goal of the postseason to give his team an early lead.

Three minutes after his first, the Broadview Heights native did it again.

“(Rucinski) has been coming for a while. He’s very good down low, he plays hard. I think that’s probably his breakout game,” Ward said. “You’re gonna see (Rucinski) here become a really, really effective player. He’s a late birthday, his draft year isn’t even for two years, so he’s going to be a pretty special player. I’m happy to have him and it’s good to see him step up in a big moment.”

Sandwiching those goals was Kuzma Voronin with one of his own. Voronin and Brecken Smith both crashed the net and were rewarded for their trouble.

After the Phantoms established a three-goal lead before the midway point of the opening period, things began to cool off.

The nets remained empty until the final five minutes of the middle period, when Madison got its first of the evening. Austin Burnevik was credited for the goal.

In the final minute of the second, Smith helped put the Phantoms up by three once again, scoring an unassisted goal.

At the start of the third, Max Nagel inched the Capitols back, beating out netminder Aiden Wright with a slapshot to cut the deficit to 4-2 in favor of the Phantoms.

Just a few minutes later, Madison cut into that deficit further, with Diego Johnson as the triggerman.

With momentum swinging Madison’s way fast, Tory Pitner stifled that momentum with a rocket of a slapshot to put the Phantoms back up by two goals.

That brief scare ended almost as quickly as it began.

Another Youngstown blueliner, Conner de Haro, matched Pitner with a rocket of his own. The shot hit the back of the net before Madison goaltender Carsen Musser could even make a move to stop it.

After Nagel cut into that deficit once again, Rucinski got his third of the night.

Tuesday’s hat trick by Adam Pietila was the team’s first postseason hat trick since the 2017-18 playoffs.

Not even 24 hours after that, Rucinski had his own hat trick.

The Ohio State commit halved his regular season goal total of six in one night.

And the Phantoms weren’t done yet. On a penalty kill and an empty net on the other end, leading to a 6-on-4, the big blueliner, Tomas Machu, airmailed the puck down the ice and it sailed in.

Now awaiting Youngstown in the next round of the Clark Cup Playoffs are the top-seeded Dubuque Fighting Saints.

“They’re the best team in the Eastern Conference,” Ward said. “They’re well-coached, organized, they’ve got a ton of skill up front. I think for us, we’re going to have to be at our best, play downhill and play our brand of hockey in Dubuque.”

Have an interesting story? Contact Brian Yauger by email at byauger@tribtoday.com. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @_brianyauger.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $2.99/week.

Subscribe Today