The Rapid City Rush left town a week ago with a 2-0 lead and early control of their Central Hockey quarterfinal playoff series with the Missouri Mavericks.
Now the Rush season teeters on the brink after Missouri completed a three-game home-ice sweep with a 5-2 triumph Saturday at the Independence Events Center in Independence, Mo.
Three unanswered goals and an empty-net clincher in the third period Saturday night turned the tide in the favor of the Mavericks, who now lead the best-of-seven series 3-2, with Game 6 Tuesday night at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center Ice Arena in Rapid City.
If the Rush can bounce back on Tuesday, a deciding Game 7 is set for Wednesday at the Ice Arena.
The Rush clung to a 2-1 lead with less than 13 minutes left in the third period, but Missouri pounced on Rapid City’s second defensive miscue to knot the tally and the floodgates opened on the Rush soon afterwards.
“We played a heck of hockey game for 50 minutes,” Rush head coach Joe Ferras said.
Ryan Jardine slipped behind the Rush blueliners and scored on a breakaway pass from Blake Forsyth at the 7:13 mark.
Colt King’s two goals included the game-winner with 5:26 left in the third period and another less than four minutes later.
Kellan Tochkin also scored a game-tying goal and Kenton Miller added an empty-netter to seal it for the Mavericks.
Tochkin and Sebastien Thinel each had two assists for Missouri.
Rusty Masters went to his knees to bat in his second goal of the night late in the second period.
Masters’ backhand deflection gave the Rapid City the early lead, but mistakes on the blueline haunted the Rush.
A botched Rapid City line change allowed a 2-on-1 rush to develop. Tochkin beat Rush starter Danny Battochio off the cross-ice feed from Thinel with 9:51 left in the second period.
“At this stage of the season, you can’t make bad decisions. You can’t leave the ice until the puck gets deep and it’s not deep on the far blue line,” Ferras said.
“If we don’t make better decisions on Tuesday, we go home. That’s the bottom line,” Ferras said.
Battochio stopped 14-of-18 in the loss for Rapid City. Mike Clemente made 15 saves for Missouri.
Missouri scored two power play goals in nine man-advantage chances en route to a 4-2 win over Rapid City Friday night.
The Rush gave up just two power play opportunities Saturday, but couldn’t convert on five extra-man chances, including a four-minute double-minor issued to Trevor Kell for a high stick that bloodied Masters.
Amateur Kyle Stroh, from St. Norbert College suited up for his first pro game and tallied an assist on Masters’ second goal.
“He had a heck of a hockey game for us with his first pro point. He’s obviously a player that can adapt to the pro game,” Ferras said.
But whether Rapid City’s season continues past Tuesday depends on how the Rush respond to playing with their backs to the wall.
“Give (the Mavericks) credit. They closed the deal and now it’s up to us to hold service when we get back to Rapid City. Until that fourth game is won, nothing is over,” Ferras said.