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Postgame Central at Muskegon Lumberjacks - April 23, 2022

By Chicago Steel, 04/23/22, 9:15PM CDT

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MUSKEGON, MICHIGAN — In an outrageous final game of the 2021-2022 regular season, the Chicago Steel (39-13-9-1; 88 pts.) erased several early two-goal deficits and scored three times in the second period to earn a 6-5 victory over the Muskegon Lumberjacks (33-23-3-3; 72 pts.) at Mercy Health Arena Saturday night, clinching the top seed in the Eastern Conference for the 2022 Clark Cup Playoffs.

Trailing by two goals on three separate occasions, the Steel used four consecutive markers to jump ahead and earn the conference regular season crown.

It was an early goal bonanza as the Lumberjacks scored on their first three shots of the game against Steel netminder Jack Stark.  The 2021 USHL First-Team All-Rookie was playing in his first game since April 15, 2021 following surgery last fall to repair a lower body injury.

Landon MacDonald scored his first USHL goal on a wrister that caught a piece of Stark’s glove before trickling into the net just 30 seconds into the game.

Less than a minute later, a partial 2-on-1 led by Phil Tresca resulted in Tresca’s 28th goal of the season on a quick wrister as Muskegon grabbed a lightning-fast 2-0 edge.

Chicago did its best to keep pace, scoring on its first shot of the game from Steel co-captain Sam Lipkin. The Quinnipiac University commit and Arizona Coyotes prospect breezed down the left wing boards after a setup pass from Lukas Gustafsson, pulling the trigger on a shot that beat Muskegon netminder Thomas Kiesewetter through the five-hole.

Jake Braccini helped the home team extend the lead to 3-1 on the ensuing shift, the fourth total goal in the first five minutes of play.

After the scoring momentarily subsided, Jack Harvey was sent in on a breakaway from Luca Fantilli down the left side of the offensive zone on an almost mirror image of Lipkin’s path to the net earlier in the frame, Harvey flipped a wrister past Kiesewetter to cut the lead to 3-2.

Muskegon’s Owen Melehnbacher then scored his 18th goal of the year, spinning and firing from the slot past Stark.

Zam Plante barged his way onto the already-loaded first period scoresheet with the 10th goal of his rookie season. Skating into the middle of the ice after a feed from Dylan Robbins, Plante wired a wrister past Kiesewetter to reduce the deficit to one goal entering the second period.

Stark settled down in net for the Steel to turn away all nine shots faced in the middle frame as his teammates offered more than enough offensive support, taking the lead for good midway through the second.

Jackson Blake pulled the Steel even after Harvey rushed the net, getting a shot off that was turned away before Blake picked up the rebound for his 27th goal of the season.

Rookie Jayden Perron put his 17th goal of the season on his highlight reel with a dazzling individual effort to take a 5-4 lead for Chicago in the middle frame. After a board battle win from Joe Miller and Andon Cerbone, Perron went through the legs to himself in front of the crease and waited out Kiesewetter, flipping a puck over the top of the netminder.

Lipkin capped the four-goal Chicago run with a marker in the final minute of the second. Co-captain Luca Fantilli flipped a pass to Lipkin who had a second to gain control and fire a wrister from just above the slot for his 36th marker of the year.

The third period intensity reached a fever pitch after Ethan Whitcomb brought the Lumberjacks to within a goal, losing his defender and connecting on a wrister from the left circle with six minutes to play.

From that point on, the teams went back-and-forth with offensive rushes and few stoppages of play until just before the final minute of regulation.

With an extra attacker in for Muskegon, Stark and the Steel finished the comeback by smothering the puck in a board battle as time ran out, clinching the 6-5 victory as Stark totaled 19 saves in his first game action of the season.

As the top seed, the Steel have clinched a First Round bye and will face the winner of the best-of-three matchup between the #4 seed Youngstown Phantoms and #5 seed Madison Capitols. Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals is scheduled for Saturday, April 30 on the road before the Steel return home for Game 2 on Monday, May 2 at 7:05 pm CT at Fox Valley Ice Arena and Game 3 (if necessary) on Tuesday, May 3 at 7:05 pm CT at Fox Valley Ice Arena.

Tickets for the Eastern Conference Semifinals are now on sale starting at just $10 and are available in person at the Steel Box Office at Fox Valley Ice Arena, by phone at 855-51-STEEL and online at chicagosteelhockeyteam.com.  The Steel offer single-game ticket discounts for kids 12 and under and military.

The Steel are offering “Pay As We Play” for the 2022 Clark Cup Playoffs, a special ticket offer to secure the same seat for each home playoff game as long as the Steel continue to advance in the postseason. Fans are encouraged to call 855-51-STEEL or email info@chicagosteelhockeyteam.com for more information or fill out the Pay As We Play form.

Steel games may be heard on Mixlr at http://mixlr.com/chicago-steel/ (AUDIO) and video may be streamed on available devices through HockeyTV at www.hockeytv.com (VIDEO).

For more information, call 855-51-STEEL or visit ChicagoSteelHockeyTeam.com.

Eastern Conference Semifinals (best-of-three series) vs. #4 Youngstown Phantoms or #5 Madison Capitols

Game 1: Saturday, April 30 – Away Game

Game 2: Monday, May 2, 7:05 p.m. – Fox Valley Ice Arena

Game 3: Tuesday, May 3, 7:05 p.m. – Fox Valley Ice Arena (if necessary)

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Lipkin - 3:55 (1st Period)

Harvey - 8:25 (1st Period)

Plante - 18:58 (1st Period)

Blake - 1:39 (2nd Period)

Perron - 9:36 (2nd Period)

Lipkin - 19:24 (2nd Period)