CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA — The Chicago Steel scored early and never trailed in a 4-1 Game 4 win over the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders Wednesday night at Cedar Rapids Ice Arena to win the Eastern Conference Semifinals series 3-1. With the win, the Steel advanced to their second Eastern Conference Final in the last three seasons and will face the top-seeded Muskegon Lumberjacks starting Saturday, April 27 in Muskegon. The series win marked the third-straight season the Steel have won a playoff series.
The Steel will host Game 3 Friday, May 3 and Game 4, if necessary, Saturday, May 4 both scheduled for 7:05 p.m. puck drops at Fox Valley Ice Arena.
The Steel’s regular season, and postseason, leading scorer Nick Abruzzese was the first to crack the scoreboard with just 10.4 seconds remaining in the first period. The center breezed through the slot and rifled a wrist shot past the blocker of RoughRiders netminder Blake Pietila after a drop pass from right wing Robert Mastrosimone set up the play.
Both goaltenders came up big in the first period, helping back their respective penalty kills as Pietila and the RoughRiders killed off a pair of penalties and Steel netminder Justin Robbins backed Chicago in its lone penalty kill of the first period.
Steel defenseman John Spetz finally broke Chicago’s powerplay drought against Cedar Rapids with a man-advantage goal just 1:28 into the second period. Spetz received a pass from right wing Mathieu De St. Phalle and fired a slap shot that hit traffic in front of Pietila and trickled past the goaltender. Before the powerplay goal from Spetz, the Steel were 0-for-26 on the powerplay this season against Cedar Rapids including 0-for-11 in the series.
Just more than a minute later, Mastrosimone and Abruzzese combined for a passing play that nearly ended with a goal from left wing Neil Shea but Pietila was able to get his body on the shot to keep the score 2-0 just three minutes into the middle frame.
Cedar Rapids cut the Chicago lead in half just before the second period expired as forward Jack O’Leary scored his first of the playoffs with 70 seconds remaining in the middle frame.
The Steel regained the two-goal lead 6:07 into the third period when Mastrosimone chipped a backhand shot past Pietila on the rebound after the netminder blocked the initial Shea shot from the side of the net. Mastrosimone then tipped an Abruzzese shot home while being dragged to the ice by a Muskegon skater with 2:34 to play in the game to seal the 4-1 win for the Steel.
Robbins stopped 17 of 18 shots to earn the victory, and he and the Chicago penalty killers were perfect Wednesday night, killing off all five RoughRiders powerplay opportunities – including a pair of penalties in the third period.
Single game tickets for Steel home games during the Eastern Conference Final go on sale on Thursday, April 25 at 9 a.m. and may be purchased in person at the Steel Box Office, by phone at 855-51-STEEL or online at ChicagoSteelHockeyTeam.com. Tickets start at just $10 and fans can catch the action up close with seats on the glass available for just $20. The group ticket minimum for Clark Cup Playoff games is just 10 people, and the Budweiser Lounge and Steel Suites are available for playoff games by calling 855-51-STEEL.