YOUNGSTOWN, OH – Alex Esposito’s goal at 11:14 of the third period was the deciding factor as the Youngstown Phantoms (32-20-5-1, 70 points) downed the Lincoln Stars 2-1 Saturday night at the Covelli Centre.
“I think the fans were treated to playoff hockey tonight,” said Phantoms Head Coach Brad Patterson. “Very proud of the guys. (There’s) a lot of ups and downs here over the course of the year, and the guys are always able to stay level-headed and compete on a daily basis. There’s a lot of resiliency in that group.”
Coale Norris gave Youngstown a 1-0 lead at 16:02 of the second period. After spending over a minute in the defensive zone on the penalty kill, Lincoln finally managed to clear the puck. Phantoms netminder Ivan Kulbakov (29 saves) picked up the clear and quickly fired back up ice to Evan Wisocky, who was waiting at the far blue line. Wisocky entered the zone with speed, creating a 2-on-1 as Norris jumped off the bench to join the play. Wisocky made a perfect cross-ice pass into Norris’ wheelhouse, and Norris blasted a one-timer past Josef Korenar (34 saves) for his 15th goal of the year. “Evan and Coale have formed a pretty good partnership,” said Patterson. “They always seem to know where one another is on the ice, and when they’re moving their feet they’re at their best, and as of late they’ve been doing that and that’s one of the keys to their game.”
Cole Krygier tied the game for Lincoln at 3:10 of the third period, firing shot through traffic from the right wing half-wall for his third goal of the season. Kulbakov was screened on the play and reacted to the shot by dropping down to the butterfly on a shot that beat him high to the glove side.
Esposito’s game winner came just two seconds after a penalty had expired to Lincoln’s Justin Richards. Esposito redirected a shot from the right point from Alec Mahalak to beat Korenar. “I saw a lane, and I just wanted to put it on net,” recalled Mahalak. “When you put it on net, good things happen. Alex got a good stick on it.” For Esposito, it was his third goal in four games and 16th of the season.
With the win, Youngstown pulled back even with the Green Bay Gamblers with 70 points for the season. Youngstown still needs Green Bay to lose at least one of their two remaining games (Sunday against Madison, Thursday against Bloomington) and the Phantoms must win out in order for the Phantoms to jump ahead of the Gamblers in the standings and claim the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
Youngstown will know if their playoff fate has been decided for them when they return to the ice next Friday and Saturday nights against The US National Team Development Program’s U17 squad. Puck drop both nights is scheduled for 7:05pm eastern and broadcasts will be available on YPHR and HockeyTV.
By the Numbers
Shots – 36
Saves – 29
Power Play – 1/6
Penalty Kill – 3/3
Goals – Norris, A. Esposito
Assists – Dockery, Kulbakov, Mahalak, Wisocky
For all the latest news, follow the Phantoms on Twitter (@YtownPhantoms) and ‘Like’ them on Facebook (www.Facebook.com/YoungstownPhantoms). A full version of the Phantoms 2016-17 season schedule, as well as season tickets and mini-plan packages, is available now by visiting www.YoungstownPhantoms.com. Ticket packages can also be purchased by calling (330) 747-PUCK.
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 15th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2016-17. 30 players were chosen in the 2016 NHL Draft and more than 402 players on team rosters this season committed to NCAA Division I schools, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent.
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