Phantoms clinch playoff berth with win over Team USA

Ivan Kulbakov posted a shutout in the playoff clinching win

Phantoms players celebrate after clinching the final Eastern Conference playoff spot in their 3-0 win over Team USA on Saturday.

YOUNGSTOWN, OH (WKBN)-Powered by 22 saves from Ivan Kulbakov, the Youngstown Phantoms (33-20-5-1, 74 points) slammed the door shut on the 2016-2017 regular season with a 3-0 victory over the United States National Team Development Program’s U17 squad.

“The message before the game was ‘make sure we’re that we’re locked in and play a whole 60 (minutes),” said Phantoms Head Coach Brad Patterson. “I think the guys did that and were rewarded for it.”

Alex Esposito opened the scoring at 6:21 of the first period. With the Phantoms on the penalty kill, Jake Gingell broke up a pass in the neutral zone and poked the puck to Austin Pooley. Pooley entered the USA zone on the left side and centered for Esposito. Esposito used a few dekes to get USA netminder Anthony Yamnitsky (19 saves) to sprawl out on the ice and elevated the puck over Yamnitsky into the back of the net for his 18th goal of the year, first shorthanded. “The biggest thing with ‘Al’ is him moving his feet and shooting pucks,” said Patterson. “When he goes to dirty areas he finds ways to get those pucks in.” Esposito has goals in five of his last six games.

Pierce Crawford doubled the Phantoms lead at 19:07 of the second period. From behind the net, Crawford tried to pass to Nicolas Werbik at the top of the crease, but Crawford’s pass hit the stick of USA defenseman Mattias Samuelsson and redirected into the net. The goal was Crawford’s 18th of the season, fourth in 17 games as a member of the Phantoms.

Werbik stretched the Youngstown lead to 3-0 at 2:17 of the third period. The play started with Evan Wisocky stealing a puck on the left-wing wall. Wisocky turned and found Werbik alone in the right circle, and Werbik blasted a one-timer through Yamnitsky’s five-hole for his 18th goal of the season.

With the shutout, Kulbakov ties Sean Romeo’s team record for shutouts in a season with five. Romeo set the record during the 2012-13 regular season, in which the USHL played 64 regular season games. Romeo played in 53 of those, Kulbakov played in 52 this year. Kulbakov fell just short of tying Romeo’s record for wins in a season (31), falling just one short of the mark.

The win also gives the Phantoms 74 points on the season, vaulting them into fourth place in the USHL’s Eastern Conference ahead of the Green Bay Gamblers and into the 2017 Clark Cup Playoffs. The Phantoms will face the regular season Eastern Conference Champion Chicago Steel in the opening round starting on Friday April 14. Youngstown won three of the five games against Chicago in the regular season. Stay tuned to YoungstownPhantoms.com for further information about the 2017 Clark Cup Playoffs.

COURTESY: YOUNGSTOWN PHANTOMS

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