All the Rapid City Rush can do now is regroup, refocus and look ahead to tonight’s Game 4 of the Central Hockey League’s Turner Conference semifinals against the Fort Wayne Komets.
That was the message being driven home by Rush head coach Joe Ferras after Wednesday night’s meltdown in Game 3 of the best-of-five series.
The Komets outscored the Rush 4-1 in the third period to force overtime, then completed the comeback with the
game- winner in the extra frame for a 5-4 victory.
“We had the team on the ropes and we didn’t get it done. We’ve got to put it behind us, go over the video and get ready for (tonight),” said Ferras. “You can’t do one thing about (Wednesday) night except learn from it. You put it away and come out loaded for bear.”
Putting it away was something the Rush, already holding a 2-0 game cushion in the series and in command at the end of the first 40 minutes of play,failed to do Wednesday night.
Dave Grimson, Konrad Reeder and Colt King scored to give the Rush a 3-0 lead early in the second period, and Andrew Smale countered a Komet power-play goal from Kaleigh Schrock to put Rapid City back up 4-1 with 12:52 left in the game.
But that’s when the wheels came off.
Fort Wayne pounced on Rush turnovers and bad penalties to mount a furious comeback. Mike Ratchuk, Schrock and P.C. Drouin all scored special-teams goals to set up overtime, where Mahtieu Curadeau also tallied on a power play to give the Komets new life in the series.
The loss marked the first time all season that the Rush failed to nail down a win after taking a lead into the final 20 minutes.
“It was just lack of focus in the last 9 minutes,” Ferras said. “That’s playoff hockey. You have breakdowns and it’s in the back of your net.”
The Rush were without their leading regular-season scorer and starting goaltender. Forward Ryan Menei scored a hat trick in last Friday’s 5-2 win in Game 1 of the series in Rapid City, but he was sidelined with a concussion early in Game 2 after a controversial hit delivered by Fort Wayne’s Sean O’Connor.
The Central Hockey League suspended O’Connor for three games for violating Rule 48, which bans blindside or lateral hits
Also sustaining an undisclosed injury on an unrelated play was goaltender Danny Battochio, who made way for Tim Boron to finish out Rapid City’s 4-3 victory Saturday night. Boron also drew the nod to start Wednesday night.
Boron stopped 41-of-46 shots to take his third loss of the season and first defeat of the playoffs.
“The goals that beat him, he was pretty well hung out to dry,” Ferras said. “You certainly can’t blame Tim Boron. He wasn’t the one turning pucks over in our own zone.”
Ferras said Battochio remained doubtful to start tonight. Menei’s status for the rest of the playoffs is still unknown as well, he said.
Ferras scheduled an optional skate for the Rush on Thursday morning, then set an afternoon meeting for the team to review video from Wednesday night.
“We played a solid hockey game for 50 minutes, and now we just go over the breakdowns and where we need to focus on a little bit more,” Ferras said.
Ferras said the Rush need to keep the loss in perspective moving forward.
“It’s just focus. If you had thought a team was going to go through the playoffs without losing a game, you’re kidding yourself,” he said. “We’ve got a strong core of leaders in that locker room. We know that Friday’s a big hockey game for this team and we’ve got to be ready. Every game’s going to be like this the rest of the way.”