GENEVA, ILLINOIS — The Chicago Steel struck for four goals in the final frame to come back for a 7-5 victory Friday over the Central Illinois Flying Aces at Fox Valley Ice Arena. The Steel (26-25-2-5, 61 pts.) now have a magic number of one to clinch a playoff berth heading into Saturday’s regular season finale against the Flying Aces (14-39-3-3, 34 pts.) in Bloomington.
Jack Dugan and Robert Mastrosimone each recorded a goal and two assists for the Steel, while Nick Abruzzese, Samuel Bucek and Aaro Vidgren each recorded a goal and an assist. In his return after missing six games due to injury, goaltender Oskar Autio stopped 11 out of 12 shots to pick up the relief victory between the pipes.
Baker Shore opened the scoring for the Steel with 3:39 remaining in the first period when he struck on the team’s third power-play opportunity of the game. Aaro Vidgren collected a wide slap shot from Samuel Bucek and circled the net to find Shore for the tap in past the glove of Central Illinois goaltender Zach Stejskal. The assist extended Vidgren’s point streak to three games (1-4–5).
Central Illinois answered back with a power-play goal of its own 4:38 into the middle frame when Zach Metsa tallied his third of the year. The defenseman rocketed a slap shot from the high slot over the glove of Chicago goaltender Justin Robbins.
The teams then exchanged scoring streaks as Chicago started with back-to-back goals from Robert Mastrosimone and Matteo Pietroniro. Mastrosimone put the Steel ahead 2-1 at the 12:12 mark when he collected a pass from Conner Hutchison and kicked the puck to his stick to finish off the goal. The assist marked Hutchison’s first career point in his USHL debut.
Pietroniro put the Steel ahead by two with a power-play goal of his own with 8:53 remaining in the second. The captain struck for the fourth goal of his current three-game goal streak (4-0–4) when he rifled a snap shot past Stejskal’s glove.
The Flying Aces answered back with three unanswered goals to close out the second with a 4-3 lead. All three goals – from Jeremy Davidson, Jacob Olbing, and Brady Meyer – were scored during a 57-second span between the 16:45 and 17:42 marks of the period.
Chicago and Central Illinois then traded goals to open the final 20 minutes before the Steel finished with three unanswered tallies to close out the game. Vidgren opened the scoring in the third with Chicago’s third power-play goal of the game. The Finnish forward found the five-hole of Stejskal with a wrist shot from the bottom of the right wing circle. Blake McLaughlin picked up an assist on Vidgren’s goal, which extended his point streak to three games (1-2–3).
Davidson answered back for Central Illinois with his second goal of the night. Davidson’s slap shot from the high slot found room past the blocker of Chicago goalie Oskar Autio, who took over for Robbins at the beginning of the third period.
Abruzzese tied the game 5-5 at the 7:19 mark. Dugan circled the offensive zone and fed a pass from behind the goal line to Abruzzese, who quickly fired a shot past the sprawling netminder.
The Steel then took the lead and extended it to two when Dugan scored his 30th of the season and Bucek scored his 20th, just 25 seconds apart. Dugan became only the third player in franchise history to record 30 goals in a single season with a breakaway goal at the 13:07 mark. The Vegas Golden Knights prospect was sprung free by a pass from Graham Lillibridge and used a forehand-backhand move to beat Stejskal to his right side. Dugan now has a five-game point streak (7-5–12).
Bucek capped the scoring when he sent a loose puck past Stejskal with 6:28 remaining. The Central Illinois goalie blocked Steel left winger Todd Goehring’s initial shot but lost track of the puck and Bucek found it beside the crease to Stejskal’s right. Goehring extended his point streak to three games (1-3–4) with the assist.
On Saturday, the Steel need to earn at least one point (win or overtime/shootout loss) at Central Illinois, or have Cedar Rapids lose at home to Madison in any fashion (regulation/overtime/shootout), in order to clinch a second-consecutive Clark Cup Playoff berth. If the Steel qualify for the postseason, Chicago would be the #6 seed, and would face the #3 seed Muskegon Lumberjacks in a best-of-three series starting Monday, April 16. The entire First Round series would be played at L.C. Walker Arena in Muskegon, Mich.
Saturday’s rematch between Chicago and Central Illinois takes place at Grossinger Motors Arena at 7:07 p.m. CT. The game broadcast will be carried live on Mixlr (free audio) and HockeyTV (iPPV). For more information, visit ChicagoSteelHockeyTeam.com/broadcast. Fans are encouraged to visit the Playoff Hub on ChicagoSteelHockeyTeam.com for updated information regarding the 2018 Clark Cup Playoffs.