Ryan Menei couldn’t have picked a better time to shrug off a mini- scoring slump for the Rapid City Rush.
Menei, held to a single assist in an opening-round sweep of Dayton, came alive in a big way, ringing up a hat trick to lead the Rush to a 5-2 win over the Fort Wayne Komets on Friday night.
The win gives the Rush a key 1-0 lead to open the best-of-five Turner Conference semifinals.
“It’s great to see Ryan get the gorilla off his back,” Rush head coach Joe Ferras said. “When he shoots the puck, he’s as good as it gets.”
Colt King got things rolling for Rapid City, first by setting the physical tone for the night, then poking a loose puck past Komets starter Nick Boucher for the first of two Rapid City power-play goals.
“When he plays that way, he’s a force,” Ferras said of King. “Colt, Les (Reaney), (Josh) Beaulieu, (Kevin) Harvey — they’ve got to play that style of hockey and the rest of us feed off it.”
Dave Grimson clinched it, with a chip-shot empty netter late in the third period, but between the bookends it was Menei’s night.
“The win tops everything. I thought we came out and stormed the place. We let them hang around a little bit, but anytime you can help the team, especially getting started in the playoffs. It feels good,” Menei said.
Menei scored on a blast from the top of the left circle and added a backhand power-play tally to give the Rush a 3-0 cushion at the end of the first period.
Menei triggered the headgear shower 15 seconds after charging from the penalty box in the third period and going top shelf on Boucher for a 4-1 lead.
Chaulk would add a power-play goal late in the game, but the Komets’ inability to stay out of the penalty box told the tale, with Fort Wayne coughing up nine power-play opportunities to the Rush.
“They baited us and we took the bait,” Fort Wayne coach Al Sims said. “We can’t do that (tonight). We have to be a totally different hockey club.”
Rapid City jumped on four Fort Wayne penalties in the first period for a pair of power-play goals to lead 3-0 at the end of the first period.
A strong second period got the Komets on the board, but Sims said Fort Wayne could have turned the game around.
“We outscored them 1-0, but we could’ve had a lot more. We didn’t bear down in front of the net. I thought we could’ve gotten it to 3-2 before the third, but then we got back to taking penalties and it hurt us,” Sims said.
Fort Wayne found new life when Chaulk took advantage of a sloppy Rapid City line change as he touched up an Artem Podshendyalov rebound and easily beat Rush goaltender Danny Battochio.
The onslaught continued with the Komets outhustling the Rush and outshooting them 9-4 through 18:21 of the period.
“We had a little lull in the second (period). They’ve won three championships. They don’t know how to quit and they’re going to come twice as hard tomorrow,” Ferras said.
Battochio finished with 20 saves. Boucher stopped 21 in taking the loss.
The series continues with Game 2 at the Ice Arena tonight at