And just like that, the series is tied. After dropping the first pair of games to the Steel in Chicago, the Phantoms are right back in it and the series will now be determined by one last game back in Illinois.
The Phantoms came out dominating once again - out hitting, out skating, and massively outshooting the Steel from the drop of the puck. The Phantoms would be the first to strike on the scoreboard as well, at 14:56 of the first. Michael Karow wuld take a wristshot from the blueline with Asutin Pooley set up shop infront of Steel netminder Ales Stezka. Jake Jaremko was attempting to clear the Phantoms center from the top of the crease but just added to the screen and may have added a little contact with the steel netminder as Pooley tipped the puck in. Shots were 10-1 Phantoms at this point and 12-2 at the end of the frame.
The Phantoms quickly turned their lead from one goal to a pair early in the second, just a minute in. With a lot of neutral zone chaos, Eric Esposito and Jack Badini trading cheap shots, the puck ended up on the stick of Coale Norris in the attack zone. Norris snapped a shot from the right faceoff circle that Stezka probably wants back. The cheap shots would continue all period for both teams as the game got a little chippy. The Steel's Tyler Gratton would take a head contact penalty just about a minute after the second goal. Ivan Kulbakov would get a roughing call on a shot to the back of Derek Daschke later in the frame, moments after a non-call on a trip by Marc Johnstone who hauled down Max Ellis in the neutral zone. There was a moment when it looked like Steve Ruggiero and Johnny Walker might drop the gloves. Shots were a little more even in the second, 9-6 in favor of the Phantoms.
Just like the night before, the Steel would push a lot harder in the third. Marc Johnstone would break the shutout bid for Ivan Kulbakov just over halfway through the period. Eduards Tralmaks would make a great pass from behind the Phantoms net to the Steel captain who was parked atop of Kulbakov's crease for the one-time shot at 10:04. Moments later the Phantoms would push the lead back to two when Evan Wisocky skated the puck into the zone with Alex Esposito trailing, the two crossing up in the slot, confusing the Steel defense. Wisocky ripped a shot from the right faceoff circle that popped Stezka's water bottle off the top of the net at 12:33. The Steel answered that quickly, less than a minute later, Michael Karow losing an edge on his skates bring it out from behind his own net and laying it nicely for Eduards Tralmaks to step into for a point blank shot to cut it to one at 13:23. That would be all they had as the Phantoms defended the one goal lead to the final buzzer. Shots were 10-9 Steel in the final frame and 30-18 for the Phantoms overall.
So it's back to Chicago. With the way these teams have played it's almost a situation of next goal wins the series. The Phantoms have to feel good about evening it up after two losses, one a 6-0 shutout, and should have the momentum on their side. For the Steel, they played much better in the third and have to feel good about being able to decide things on home ice. It's going to be very, very interesting to see how both teams come out to start game 5, which is Tuesday at 8:05PM EST. Until then, here's some highlights.
Austin Pooley screens the goalie and tips it in.
Evan Wisocky sends the water bottle up and over.
Ivan Kulbakov flashes the glove.