Playoff Primer: Saints Face-Off with Phantoms in First Round
The Dubuque Fighting Saints kick off the 2019 Clark Cup Playoffs against the Youngstown Phantoms on Monday night in a best of three first round matchup. Dubuque is coming off a 2-2 finish to the regular season with wins over Cedar Rapids and Chicago and then back to back loses against the Waterloo Black Hawks. Dubuque claimed the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference and will be on the road for the first round and first two games of the second if necessary. Here is your full first round breakdown.
In the regular season Youngstown had control of the series against the Dubuque Fighting Saints. Youngstown won three of four against the Saints in the regular season and Dubuque has not won a game against the Phantoms since September. The Phantoms won twice in Dubuque, 4-3. They also won on their home ice 6-3. Dubuque's 4-2 win included two goals from Derek Contessa. In the series, the power plays have taken center stage for both teams. Dubuque is 4-13 against Youngstown on the man advantage. Youngstown is 5-19 on the power play against Dubuque on the year. Both teams are ranked in the top five in the USHL. Youngstown is 22.2% and Dubuque is 21.9% on the PP. Youngstown is one of the most physical teams in the league, having taken 1101 penalty minutes this season. Dubuque has drawn the fewest amount of penalties this season, averaging only 2.85 penalties per game. One of the biggest keys to the series will be who wins the penalty battle. The biggest key to the matchup might be the fact that the teams haven't played each other since the turn of the calendar. Their last matchup was December 30th, with Youngstown winning 4-3. Youngstown is playing some of their best hockey of the season, going 7-3 in their last 10. However, Dubuque seems to have turned a corner, playing great hockey in their last month as well.
The Key Players:
Youngstown possess a few weapons, but the most notable is Brett Murray. Murray had the most goals in the regular season with 41. Murray came back from Penn State and is now committed to Miami Ohio after a stellar season. He finished second in the league behind Nick Aburzzese in terms of total points. Murray had 15 power play goals and 12 power play assists. In addition, he had three points shorthanded. Murray does most of his damage from below the circles, but he has the ability to take over the game in any area. The other key player for Youngstown is the man between the pipes, Chad Veltri. After playing 10 games with Sioux Falls, he was picked up by Youngstown and took off. Veltri is 17-6-1-1 with a 2.54 GAA and a .912 save percentage. Veltri has been one of the best netminders in the league since the switch to Youngstown. With him in net, the Phantoms can win defensive games which they had struggled with before.
For the Fighting Saints, it all starts with Matias Maccelli. Coming off a historic regular season, Maccelli will look to make his mark in the postseason. He finished just behind Murray with 72 points in the regular season. Maccelli played in all five playoff games last season for Dubuque, recording a single assist. This season he led the team in points (72), goals (31), and assists (41). Maccelli also has 26 power play points, which is second in the USHL. Maccelli has the ability to take over the game for Dubuque and his biggest key will be finding open space to operate against a tight checking Youngstown team. In addition to Maccelli, Dubuque will also look to Riese Gaber for scoring. Gaber finished the season with 50 points in 61 games. Gaber was a spark-plug for the Fighting Saints, not only providing the offense but also providing some physicality. Gaber, in his first USHL season, has shown he can hang in the league and not just that, but he can be a force. Gaber's ability to create space on his own with his smooth skating will be a big factor in the series.
One Big Thing:
Dubuque has had trouble against physical teams this season, which is exactly what Youngstown is. The matchup between Dubuque's skill and Youngstown's brawn will be one to follow all series long. In addition, like we touched on before, the lack of power plays that Dubuque has drawn vs. Youngstown taking the second most penalties in the league will also be something to watch and something that factors in to the physicality of the series.
In a best of three series, the first game is crucial. For Youngstown, it is all about holding serve on home ice. The Phantoms were 18-9-0-4 this season on home ice. They outscored their opponents by 12 goals and their nine loses were the fifth fewest in the USHL on home ice. Dubuque had more success on the road then they did at home. The Fighting Saints were 15-12-2-2 on the road. If Dubuque can set the tone early, they will have a good chance against Youngstown. If the Phantoms can dictate the game, they can beat anyone in the league with their in-your-face attitude. Dubuque has won twice on the road in Youngstown since 2012-13. The Saints will have to overcome an active start from Youngstown, but Dubuque has proven that they can play with the top teams in the league and Youngstown has proven that they are one.
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