The Phantoms were not happy with the way they played on Friday night. If you needed evidence of that, it was on display last night in the rematch. For the second consecutive week, the Phantoms managed to earn a split in a weekend series after a poor showing the the first game. This week it was the Tri-City Storm, a team that is hard to generate offense against.
The Phantoms came out flying in the first. They played with a lot more energy and more importantly, they played with a lot more purpose. Puck support looked to be remarkably better early on, multiple players converging on the puck instead of watching one guy try to pull it out of a crowd of Storm players.
Despite the increased effort, the Storm struck first. Phantoms defenseman Artyom Borshyov got trapped deep in the Storm zone as the puck went back up ice. Forward Georgi Merkulov was unable to keep up with speedy forward Matthew Knies, and the puck carrier, Chase McLean, slid the puck over to Knies in the slot for a one-timer that beat Dominic Basse at 11:30. That didn't take too much of the starch out of the Phantom's sails, but a late PP goal by Cole McWard, hammering home a loose puck from the left faceoff circle with :26 left in the period, didn't help. Shots were 9-4 Tri-City after the first.
The Phantoms would turn things up a notch in the second. It started with Yusaku Ando stripping the puck from Colby Ambrosio, taking advantage of a momentary bobble from the highly touted forwad. Ando took off up ice with defenseman Caleb Price on a two-on-zero rush. Ando gave the puck to Price who gave it right back as Ando, who across the top of the crease as netminder Ryan Ouellette dove the opposite way, allowing Ando to tuck the puck around the sliding netminder at 3:14.
The Phantoms tied it on a shorthanded goal. Bradley Marek cleared the puck to a soft area in the neutral zone for John Beaton, who had a clear lane to the Storm net. Tri-City defenseman Michael Koster managed to catch up and get between Beaton and the net but Beaton pulled up at the side of the goal and hit a trailing Matthew Cassidy, who made a little toe-drag move and fired off a shot for a goal at 14:10. The Phantoms went ahead 1:42 later when Trevor Kuntar shot a puck that went over the net but took a foruitous bounce off the glass and landed at the side of the cage for a waiting Georgi Merkulov, who wasted no time in putting it in. Shots were 11-8 Storm in the middle frame, but the Phantoms held a 3-2 lead.
Tri-City wasn't going to leave Youngstown without some push back. A penalty midway through led Storm Coach Anthony Noreen to use his timeout and it must have been a good plan that ended with Mitchell Miller throwing the puck at the net through a gaggle of players screening Basse to tie it at 13:28. With the score tied, the Phantoms needed a hero to step up. That player would be Josh DeLuca. John Beaton found him with a pass at the bottom hash of the right faceoff circle. DeLuca fired a shot into the top corner of the net so fast Ouellette did not even flinch, I doubt he was even able to track the puck until it was coming out of the netting. The time of the goal was 15:35.
The Phantoms added an empty netter off of Aiden Gallacher's long bomb shot. He literally pulled the puck from the far corner and launched the puck from the farthest possible spot from the Storm goal. That was with :31 left on the clock, effectively ending any bid from the Storm to tie the game. Shots were 9-4 Tri-City in the period and 29-16 overall but the Phantoms pulled out the 5-3 win.
The Phantoms are still playing .500 hockey and remain a game below .500 in the standings. This has pushed us down to 6th in the Eastern Conference, the last playoff spot. This should be of some concern with us facing the teams directly above us and directly below us in the standings the next two weeks.
It was a slightly smaller crowd for Saturday's game 1,344. But, they were fueled by the teams energy and $1 beer so the volume level in the Covelli was way better. The office is doing a much better job this season than recent years at putting people in seats for these games and it's starting to show. You have to think it was a factor in last night's game. Next week is a back-to-back-to-back, three games in three days, so we'll see how much we can sustain the attendance. But until then, here's the big highlight.
Josh DeLuca's game winning goal!