GENEVA, ILLINOIS — Robert Mastrosimone tied Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals with just one minute remaining but Team USA center Danny Weight scored the overtime winner as the Chicago Steel fell to Team USA, 3-2. Team USA has taken a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series with Game 4, a must-win contest for the Steel, set for Friday night at Fox Valley Ice Arena.
Team USA fired several chances at Steel netminder Oskar Autio in the first period, including a two-on-one breakaway chance for Owen Lindmark at the 5:33 mark, but Autio slid to his right to make the stop. However, just 1:04 later, USA center John Beecher collected his second goal of the series, jamming home a five-hole shot on a two-on-one break alongside Judd Caulfield. Chicago was outshot by a 12-5 margin in the first period, trailing 1-0 at the break.
The Steel answered back with a tying goal at the 9:52 mark of a 17-shot second period. With the Steel’s first power play of the night closing, left wing Blake McLaughlin sent a wrist shot over a sprawling Rowe for his third goal of the postseason. Aaro Vidgren and Graham Lillibridge collected the assists.
Chicago had a flurry with a little more than four minutes to play in the second period that culminated with a Rowe glove save on Steel defenseman Derek Daschke. Vidgren had his shot blocked to start the frenzy but a clearing attempt found Daschke at the top of the left circle for the one-time slap shot that a seated Rowe reached at and snagged with the glove.
Team USA regained its lead 6:46 into the final frame when Erik Middendorf recorded his first goal and point of the series. Autio’s initial save on USA center Owen Lindmark redirected off the right leg pad and found Middendorf alone, who fired a quick release past the blocker.
Rowe and the iron came up big down the stretch as the goaltender made saves on Lillibridge, Jack Dugan and Nick Abruzzese down the stretch. The Steel also hit two posts, including Brian Hurley’s slap shot off the corner post with 4:50 to play.
Chicago Head Coach Ryan Cruthers pulled Autio late in the game in favor of an extra attacker. Graham Lillibridge fired a shot from the high slot that bounced down at the crease and Mastrosimone jammed it in at the 19:00 mark to force overtime.
The Steel outshot Team USA by a combined 29-15 in periods two and three. Team USA then outshot the Steel in overtime, 3-2, with the game-winner coming from Weight. USA defenseman Drew Helleson’s shot from above the right circle was deflected in front and the bouncing puck was found by Weight, who sent a shot past the blocker to seal the game.
Chicago scored once on three power play opportunities while Team USA was held scoreless on the two-man advantages. The Steel finished with a 36-30 shot advantage. Graham Lillibridge recorded two assists to move into sole possession of first place in Steel team history with 13 career playoff assists, and his 16 career playoff points trail all-time leader Jack Badini by just one (17).
The teams are back in action in Game 4 Friday night at 7:05 p.m. CT inside Fox Valley Ice Arena. If the Steel can win to force a Game 5, the series would conclude Sunday afternoon at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Mich., with a 3:05/2:05 p.m. CT faceoff.
Fans are encouraged to visit the Playoff Hub on ChicagoSteelHockeyTeam.com for game dates, times, results, and ticket information throughout the 2018 Clark Cup Playoffs. All Steel playoff game broadcasts are carried live on Mixlr (free audio) and HockeyTV (iPPV). For broadcast links and information, visit ChicagoSteelHockeyTeam.com/broadcast. For Steel tickets or more information, call 855-51-STEEL, stop by the Box Office at Fox Valley Ice Arena or visit ChicagoSteelHockeyTeam.com.