DUBUQUE, Iowa – The Youngstown Phantoms mounted a ferocious third-period push, but ran out of time Saturday night against the Dubuque Fighting Saints. Dubuque jumped out to a 5-1 lead, but the Phantoms rallied to make it a 5-4 game in the third, only to see their comeback cut short by the final buzzer.
Markus McCrea, Kyle Connor, Alfred Larsson and Tommy Davis all scored goals for the Phantoms (9-13-0, 18 points), who fell to the United States Hockey League-leading Fighting Saints (19-3-1, 39 points) for the second night in a row. Goaltender Sean Romeo surrendered five goals on 28 shots and was saddled with his second straight loss.
"We had every opportunity to tie it up… I'm proud of our guys' efforts," head coach Anthony Noreen said. "It's just a lesson to learn when you're playing a good hockey team – you can't make mistakes and you can't spot them leads."
The game was gridlocked until the 15:16 mark of the first when Frankie DiChiara fired a puck just inside the far post on Romeo. Tyler Spezia put the Fighting Saints up two just 20 seconds later when he deflected Mike Downing's wrist shot from the right point in mid-air. Then DiChiara netted his second of the night with just 27 seconds remaining in the period to give Dubuque a 3-0 lead heading into the first intermission.
Youngstown got on the board on the power play nearly eight minutes into the middle period. Sam Anas fed it across the crease to John Padulo, who left the puck for McCrea between the circles and he wristed it past Girard for his eighth goal of the season, matching his total from 2011-12.
Dubuque stretched the lead back to three goals at the 10:18 mark when Seamus Malone set up Jarrid Privitera on the doorstep. Then Keegan Ford made it 5-1 with a shot from the right hash marks after the Phantoms got caught on a long shift.
But with just 11 seconds remaining in the period, Connor brought it back to a three-goal game. Ryan Lowney floated a puck into space at center ice and Austin Cangelosi touched it ahead for Connor. The Michigan recruit turned on the jets and split the defenders before deking out Girard and sliding the puck behind his right skate.
"That was huge," Noreen said. "That's what we talked about between the periods: ‘We just snatched away the momentum. Now let's go out and jump on them in the third.'"
That's precisely what the Phantoms did.
Larsson, playing in just his second game after being sidelined for eight weeks with a hand injury, started the Youngstown on the road to a comeback with a power-play tally 1:14 into the third. The towering Swede set a screen for a point shot from Anas and then out-muscled the Dubuque defenders for the rebound to bring Phantoms within two.
"When Alfred scores goals and produces offensively, it's not because of his hands or shot," Noreen said. "It's his will that scores it. He just planted himself in front of the net, banged in an ugly goal and gave us a shot to win the game."
Then Davis made it a one-goal game off a rush with 6:34 remaining in regulation. Josh Nenadal skated the puck in the right corner threw it toward net before absorbing a crunching hit. Davis, who had jumped into the play from defense, crashed the net and tapped the puck in from the just outside the crease.
"You're not going to score many pretty goals against this team. You've got to beat them to the dirty areas" Noreen said. "Josh took a hit to make a play."
The Phantoms had plenty of chances to bring it even in the final minutes. Alexander Dahl had a golden opportunity with a short-handed breakaway, but he was stoned by Dubuque goaltender Arthur Brey, who was subbed in after Larsson's goal to open the period. Then with 1:56 remaining in regulation, the Fighting Saints were whistled for too many men on the ice, giving the Phantoms a power play for the rest of regulation. But Youngstown could not capitalize and time and Dubuque held on for the win.
"We knew it was going to take everything we had to give [Dubuque] a run at it," Noreen said. "I don't think there's anything that we didn't leave out on the ice tonight."
Phantoms by the Numbers
Shots – 25
Saves – 23
Power Play – 2-for-6
Penalty Kill – 3-for-4
Goals – Connor, Davis, Larsson, McCrea
Assists – Anas (2), Cangelosi, Ryan Lowney, Nenadal, Padulo (2)