YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Clinging to a one-goal lead in the game's final five minutes minutes and staring down the league's top power play, the Youngstown Phantoms didn't finch. When their top two penalty killers were sent to the locker room early, they could have crumbled, but they didn't.
Instead the Phantoms killed off back-to-back power plays and added two of empty-net goals to hand the Green Bay Gamblers a 5-2 loss Friday at the Covelli Centre.
Sam Anas scored a pair of goals – including the eventual game-winner – and added an assist to lead the way for Youngstown (21-19-0, 42 points). Goaltender Sean Romeo turned away 25 shots on the evening, none bigger than a swift kick-save to deny Green Bay's leading scorer Kyle Novak of what appeared an easy backdoor tap-in with little more than a minute remaining.
"Going into the PK I was thinking, ‘If they score it's a completely different hockey game,'" Romeo said. "I'm not going to say that save was the end of the game for us, but it definitely helped the momentum swing for us. We were able to kill the rest of it off and get a couple goals after that."
"That was maybe the biggest save of the year Sean's made," head coach Anthony Noreen said.
Cam Brown, John Padulo and Josh Nenadal also scored and Nathan Walker chipped in with a pair of assists as the Phantoms handed the Gamblers (24-14-3, 51 points) just their seventh loss in the past 31 games.
Youngstown grabbed the lead less than five minutes into the first period. Tommy Davis sent a low-lying wrist shot in from the point and Brown go a stick on it to deflect it straight up and over the shoulder of Green Bay goaltender Richard Ullberg.
Novak knotted it up for the Gamblers at 13:45 mark when he got in behind the Phantoms' defense and rifled a wrist shot top shelf on Romeo. The top-ranked Green Bay power play got its first opportunity against Youngstown's league-leading penalty kill two minutes into the second period and wasted little time. Alex Kile slid to the backdoor undetected, got a pass from Sheldon Dries and slotted it into the yawning net just nine seconds in.
"That was the marquee matchup coming into the game… and they bang one in nine seconds into the first power play," Noreen said. "I think that was a bit of a wakeup call to our guys that they are that good. After that I thought we did a great job."
The Phantoms found themselves down a man again early in the third period, but this time they were able to kill it off and then some. Nathan Walker got a hold of the puck in his own corner and fired a pass to Padulo, who was coming out of the box and he headed into the Gamblers' zone. Anas joined in on the 2-on-1 rush and Rochester, N.Y. native fed a pass for him at the right circle. Anas sized up the shot and then deftly slid it back to Padulo on the back post, and he one-touched it in to tie the game 2-2 at the 4:57 mark.
"For us to kill the penalty and then score a goal on top, we didn't look back from there," Anas said.
Anas put the Phantoms in front less than 10 minutes later. Brown came streaking down the left-wing boards, hit the brakes and threw a pass into space for Walker in the slot. The Aussie winger had the opportunity to shoot but instead neatly tucked a backhand pass around a sprawling Christian Wolanin and found Anas perched on the doorstep. Ullberg made an admirable initial save but the Potomac, Md. native punched in the rebound to put the Youngstown in front.
"I thought for sure Nathan was going to shoot," Anas said. "He was almost blindfolded and he found me backdoor."
Luke Stork was called for hooking less than a minute after the Phantoms went in front and referee Paul Maciejewski also whistled Dan Renouf for a 10-minute misconduct for objecting to the call. The Phantoms were able to kill off the penalty but at the 17:10 mark, just 11 seconds after he returned to the ice, Stork was sent back to the sin bin for cross checking, and Ryan Lowney was sent to the showers for questioning the penalty.
"That's probably the most amount of adversity we've faced in the last five minutes of a game," Noreen said. "You get a penalty and kill it off against the league's best power play and immediately go on the kill again. In the meantime your leading two minute-getters are in the box and some guys who haven't killed penalties in a long time have to go out there and do it. But our PK didn't miss a beat."
Nenadal scored and empty-net goal with 49 seconds remaining in regulation to put the Phantoms up two goals. Green Bay, however, elected to pull the netmider once again and Anas was able to loft the puck from behind his own blueline all the way down the ice and in to ensure the win.
"They beat us four games in a row earlier this year, and two in our own barn," Anas said. "It was just a matter of pride that we couldn't let that happen again. And for those of us that were on the team last year that lost to Green Bay in the playoffs, it means a lot to beat them."
Phantoms by the Numbers
Shots – 29
Saves – 25
Power Play – 0-for-0
Penalty Kill – 4-for-5
Goals – Anas (2), Brown, Nenadal, Padulo
Assists – Anas, Brown, Davis, Lowney, Stork, Walker (2)