DUBUQUE, Iowa - A controversial no-goal Saturday night may have been the difference between the Youngtown Phantoms heading home tied with the Dubuque Fighting Saints, or trailing the regular season champions and No. 1 seed, 2-0.
Both teams were tied after 40 minutes until Frankie DiChiara put Dubuque up 2-1 less than three minutes into the third period. But defeseman Jimmy Mazza appeared to tie the game up for Youngtown on the following shift when his blast from the right point squirted past goaltender Arthur Brey and appeared to roll end-over-end across the goal line.
The buzzer did not sound. The goal lamp did light. The referee did not raise his arm. And Dubuque defenseman Mike Downing scooped the puck out and fired it away. The Fighting Saints went on to win 3-1 after an empty-net, power-play goal scored with 12 seconds remaining to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five Eastern Conference Finals.
The series will resume Monday with Game 3 in Youngstown. Puck drop is set for 7:15 p.m.
"It's the same situation if we would've won tonight - we've got to go back home and win two games," coach Anthony Noreen said. "It's unfortunate that it came out on the wrong side, but we've got to go win two games at our house."
After a scoreless first period, Alfred Larsson put the Phantoms in front 1-0 at the 3:08 mark in the second. The 6-foot-4 Swedish center walked a puck out from behind the net and put it on goal and then dug away and was able to knock it past Brey to give the Fighting Saints their first deficit of the postseason.
It would not last long. Dubuque tied the game just 33 seconds later when Kyle Mackenzie lofted a wrist shot from the left point that redirected off a Youngstown defenseman's glove and past goaltender Sean Romeo, who finished the game with 25 saves.
"I don't think they turned the tables on us by any means," Noreen said. "They throw a puck in from the point, I still don't know how it found it's way to the back of the net. But we scored that goal and I thought it was the best hockey we've played of the playoffs from that point on."
Both teams opened the third period even at 1-1, but Dubuque was able to pull ahead just 2:37 in. Karsson Kuhlman threw a shot on net and DiChiara was able to secure the rebound, take it behind the net, wrap it around and slip it inside the far post for his third goal and ninth point of the postseason.
The Phantoms looked to be the ones with the quick response this time as Mazza's rocket from the right point handcuffed Brey and slowing rolled through the blue crease, approaching the red goal line.
"Our guys along with some bystanders swear it was in, but I can't comment from where I was standing," Noreen said. "We have to watch the video."
Mazza would not comment.
Then with less than two minutes remaining, and the Phantoms desperately pressing to knot the game, Dubuque's Jarrid Privitera got control of the puck and high-tailed it down the ice. Defenseman Eric Sweetman raced to remain even with him and made a last-stich effort to lay a hit. He made contact and Privitera went barreling into goal, knocking Romeo over and knocking the net off its moorings.
Sweetman was whistled for charging - just the third penalty of the night and the second against Youngstown. Dubuque's lone penalty was washed out by a double-minor roughing call, coincidentally assessed to Sweetman as well, back in the second period.
Youngstown's only option was to pull Romeo for the extra attacked to remain 5-on-5, and they successfully had the Fighting Saints hemmed in their defensive zone, only to see DiChiara clear a puck down the ice, Kuhlman chase it down and put it in the empty net.
"I told the guys 'listen there's nothing to hang your head about after that effort,'" Noreen said. "We gave them every bit of everything we had. For one reason or another it didn't go tonight, but that hockey will win us a game in Youngstown if we can play that for 60 minutes."