This is what playoff hockey is all about. After struggling just to squeeze in the post-season, the Phantoms dropped the first two games against the Chicago Steel, 4-1 in the first game and a dismal 6-0 rout in the second. The Phantoms would need to do a little soul searching and find some way to get themselves going. What we saw at the Covelli last nigh was a completely different team than game 2, a team ready to play from the moment the puck dropped.

The Phantoms came out with a shoot first mentality and a stifling defense. The Phantoms would take the lead at 7:41 on an unforced error, to swipe a tennis term, by Stell netminder Ales Stezka. The Steel defense would attempt to clear the puck from the corner around the boards to to the opposite side. The puck made it to the blueline but not out as Michael Karow corralled it and sent it back on net. Stezka attempted to direct the puck to the corner with his stick but the puck jumped up off his stick and bounced across the goal line, his stick sent flying in the process. Pierce Crawford was cutting through the area and initially got credit but I don't think he was a factor, he never touched it or even screened the Steel netminder. Shots were 7-0 at this point and the Phantoms would actually add another shot before the Steel would even get their first on Ivan Kulbakov, a little over 12:00 into the first frame. Shots would end up 11-3 in favor of the Phantoms after the first.

The Steel would briefly tie it early in the second. Jack Badini made a nice pass from behind the Phantoms cage to Alec Regula who one-timed it in on Kulbakov. Kulbakov made the initial save but lost track of the rebound at the side of the cage and Eduards Tralmaks (that name is fun to say) slammed it home just 1:49 into the second and on just their 5th shot. The Phantoms would get back to work and retake the lead at 6:10 of the second. Max Ellis would settle the puck just outside the Chicago blueline and Marshall Moise would carry the puck in, dance around a few Steel defenders and fire a shot from the top of the left faceoff circle beating Stezka. Tommy Apap would add another on a shorthanded rush up ice, beating Stezka from the right faceoff circle at 9:23. Shots were 12-8 in the second.

We're in! The Phantoms needed just a point in the standings against the NTDP U17s to break the tie in the standings with the Green Bay gamblers. What we got was a dominant win and Ivan Kulbakov's team record tying 5th shutout. Even more important, the Phantoms looked more like a team preparing for a playoff run.

The Phantoms came out with a purpose and it showed, aggressive and physical on both defense and offense. This didn't translate into a huge amount of shots on goal but the Phantoms were clearly carrying the play and showing some impressive puck possession. Even penalties wouldn't stop them, and the first goal was scored on an early penalty kill. NTDP defenseman Ty Emberson would miss an outlet pass from his own zone, instead putting the puck on the stick of Jake Gingell. Gingell would hurry a pass to Austin Pooley who hurried the puck into the attack zone, drawing the lone USA defender, defenseman K'Andre Miller, to him in the left faceoff circle. This was a huge mistake by Miller, always play the pass. Maybe he didn't see Alex Esposito joining the rush but Pooley did and Pooley hit him in the slot between the hash marks. Esposito went forehand to back hand, which dropped the NTDP netminder, Anthony Yamnitsky to the ice, allowing Esposito to go back to the forehand for the second Phantoms shorthanded goal in as many nights at 6:21. USA would push back a little, shots would be 7-5 but the Phantoms lead 1-0 after 1.

The second period would be pretty much the same thing. The Phantoms would carry a slight edge in shots but neither team was shooting the lights out. The Phantoms seemed content to just possess the puck and not allow the NTDP to get a lot of good chances, preferring to make them play deep in the USA end. The Phantoms would add to their lead late in the frame when a shot from the point bounced to the stick of Pierce Crawford at the side of the crease. His attempt was unsuccessful but USA's Jake Wise tried to play the puck and tapped it behind his own goaltender with only :53 left in the second. Shots were 9-5 in favor of the Phantoms.

The Phantoms playoff hopes are still alive. With the Phantoms needing 3 of the 4 possible points this weekend, last nights win put us just an overtime away from the playoffs. Faceing the NTDP U17 squad, who are having some issues of their own at the moment, seems like it should be an easy task but it never is. When you add in the pressure of having to get points and how inconsistently we have  played down the stretch, you never really know what will happen. The good news is the Phantoms rose to the challenge and picked up a big win at home.

Things started scary enough. Early in the first period, Jake Gingell sent a clearing attempt from behind the Phantoms net to the blueline where only a pair of NTDP forwards waited for it. Josh Maniscalco  was the one who corralled it and sent a wrist shot in on net that Phantoms netminder Ivan Kulbakov failed to get a glove on and the NTDP took a 1-0 lead just 2:34 into the game on their first shot. The Phantoms would get their chance to even it up when Jack DeBohr took a double minor penalty for high sticking. Shortly after that the NTDP would mess up a line change badly, jumping three men on for two off. The result was a full 2:00 of a two-man advantage powerplay. Austin Pooley would be the recipient of a rebound from a Dominic Dockery shot from the right faceoff circle and Pooley would backhand the puck around a sprawled NTDP netminder, Anthony Yamnitsk who was recently called in from the BCHL. The tie would hold into the intermission, shots on goal were 11-9 in favor of the Phantoms.

The Phantoms would take the lead on another Pooley special teams goal, this time short handed. The play would start with a Steve Ruggerio hit on Jake Pivonka crossing the blueline into the Phantoms zone. This propelled the puck back into the neutral zone. Pooley had a step on two USA defenders and the closest NTDP skater lost his stick trying to reach around Pooley for the puck. Pooley would skate to the right faceoff circle and shoot, beating Yamnitsky over his glove on the short side with very little room to sneak the puck in at 8:34 of the second. The Phantoms would add another a little over 2:00 later. Pierce Crawford would pick off a clearing attempt and make a nice pass to Ruggiero who sneaked in from his defensive position to the right facoff circle. Ruggiero quickly slid the puck over to the left faceoff circle for Alex Esposito to slam home for a 2 goal lead at 10:49. The Phantoms outshooting the NTDP 7-6.