YOUNGSTOWN, OH – The Youngstown Phantoms (18-19-5-1, 42 points) used a three-goal second period and strong defense in the third to hold off the Muskegon Lumberjacks 5-4 Saturday night at the Covelli Centre.
“I don’t know if that’s a complete 60 minutes,” said Phantoms Head Coach Brad Patterson. “We were better in different aspects (than last night). Our third period, I thought we were on our heels a little bit. …We definitely had guys in all areas contribute.”
Muskegon opened the scoring just 1:12 into the game. Rhett Pitlick fired home a backdoor feed for his 13th goal of the season, staking the Lumberjacks to a 1-0 lead. Youngstown quickly answered back, tying the game at 4:24. Linder Alger fired a shot towards the cage from the left half-wall and Garrett Dahm redirected it past Eric Green, getting the Phantoms on the board. It was Dahm’s second goal of the year and it knotted the game at 1.
The Lumberjacks retook the lead just past the halfway point of the first period. On a goal that looked eerily similar to the first, Dylan Wendt was left unguarded at the back door after a Youngstown turnover and tapped home a quick feed at 10:05, giving Muskegon a 2-1 lead. Youngstown answered back quickly again as Ben Schoen snapped a shot past Green from between the circles at 13:33, leveling the match at 2-2 heading into the first intermission. “(Ben)’s an elite offensive player, I never question he’s going to get those opportunities,” said Patterson. “But his play away from the puck was much, much deserving of those goals.”
The Phantoms exploded for three unanswered goals to start the second period. Artyom Borshyov tapped home a pretty pass from Georgi Merkulov at 4:30 to put the Phantoms ahead for good at 3-2. Borshyov had returned to the lineup after serving a two-game suspension and the assist for Merkulov snapped a four-game scoring drought. Trevor Kuntar broke a scoring drought of him own at 10:48, carrying a puck down left wing and snapping it through Green’s five-hole for his team-leading 24th goal of the campaign, giving the Phantoms a 4-2 advantage. Kuntar had gone nine games without a goal, last lighting the lamp on January 11 against Team USA. Schoen added to the Youngstown lead at 13:49, firing one past Green’s blocker from almost the exact same spot as his first goal, but at the opposite end of the ice. Schoen’s power play goal ended the night for Green, who stopped 13-of-18 in 33:49 of action.
Muskegon finally stopped the Youngstown scoring run at 18:09 when Danil Gushchin slipped one under the right pad of Dominic Basse (18 saves) from below the right dot, cutting the Phantoms lead to 5-3 at the second intermission. Stout defense ruled the third period in both directions as the two teams combined for just seven shots in the frame (5-2 Muskegon). With backup netminder Jon Williams (2 saves) on the bench for the extra attacker, Gushchin swept one underneath Basse and into the cage for his 20th of the season and second of the game, cutting the Phantoms lead to 5-4. It was too little, too late for the Lumberjacks though, as Gushchin’s second goal of the game came with just 2.9 seconds remaining in regulation. Muskegon couldn’t manage to get a shot on net in the remaining time, allowing the Phantoms to hang on for victory.
With the win, Youngstown clinched the season series against Muskegon, winning five of the eight games the teams will play against each other. The two teams will meet again April 10-11 in Muskegon in the penultimate weekend of the season in what may help decide playoff seeding for the two teams. The Phantoms now lead the Lumberjacks by two points in the Eastern Conference standings 42-to-40 and trail the Green Bay Gamblers by one point for fourth place. The top-six teams in each conference qualify for the Clark Cup Playoffs, with the top-two teams earning byes into the Conference Quarterfinals and the #3 and #4 teams hosting a best-of-three series against the #6 and #5 teams respectively.
Youngstown takes to the road for a quick two-game trip to Iowa next weekend, battling the Waterloo Black Hawks on Friday and the Des Moines Buccaneers on Saturday before they return to the Covelli Centre for the School Day Game Wednesday February 26 against the Chicago Steel.
By the Numbers
Shots – 20
Saves – 18
Power Play – 1/2
Penalty Kill – 3/3
Goals – Borshyov, Dahm, Kuntar, Schoen (2)
Assists – Alger, Ando, Jenson, Kuntar, Marek, Merkulov, Suede