The Mahoning Valley Phantoms ran out to a 3-0 lead in Game 1 of their North Division finals series and never looked back, cruising to a 4-1 win over the U.S. National Team to claim a 1-0 lead in their best-of-five series on Thursday.
“Coming in and getting the first (game) is definitely big, especially on the road,” said Phantoms captain Johnny Meo, who finished with two assists in the win. “We’re a little banged up, but we got the job done. Definitely a good start.”
Mahoning Valley goaltender Jordan Tibbett made 47 saves en route to his third win of the 2009 Robertson Cup Playoffs.
The second-year netminder credited his big number of saves to a fast start by Team USA.
“Right off the bat they gave me some good tests,” said Tibbett. “That really got my head in the game quickly and I was able to focus right away.”
After Tibbett shut down some early chances for the Nationals, the Phantoms were able to break through for the first goal of the series on the power play when forward Alex Lippincott fired a Robert Harrison rebound past USA goalie Brandon Maxwell for a 1-0 lead with 2:56 left in the first.
The Phantoms wasted no time extending their lead early in the second when defenseman Cullen Lundholm rocketed a Stefan Salituro centering feed over Maxwell’s blocker for a 2-0 Mahoning Valley edge just 22 seconds into the middle frame.
Three minutes later, Josh Bussell struck for the Phantoms, scoring on a 2-on-1 with Meo set up by a long clearance pass from defenseman John Houston that found Meo at the USA blue line, giving the Phantoms a 3-0 lead.
The Nationals got on the scoreboard with 8:21 left in the second when Kevin Faulk slapped a one-time shot through traffic and past Tibbett to cut the lead to 3-1.
Tibbett and the Phantoms defense held firm over the final 28-plus minutes, holding off a late charge from the Nationals when Team USA head coach John Hynes pulled Maxwell with over four minutes left in the third.
Salituro capped the scoring with an empty-net goal when he arced a wrist shot from neutral ice over the USA defense into the vacated net with 3:33 left in regulation.
Maxwell made 26 saves on 29 Phantom shots, but fell to 3-2 in the 2009 playoffs.