The odds may be stacked against them, but the Rapid City Rush still have a heartbeat in the Central Hockey League playoffs.
The Rush face a climb from a 3-1 hole in their best-of-seven Turner Conference semifinal series with Fort Wayne.
Fort Wayne can advance to the conference finals against the Missouri Mavericks with a win in today’s Game 5, set for a 4 p.m. MDT start at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne.
A Rapid City win, however, will force a Game 6, set for 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center Ice Arena. Another Rapid City win would send the series back to Fort Wayne for a deciding Game 7.
“It’s do or die. We’ve got to win to stay alive and get the next game, or we’re going home for the summer,” Rush assistant coach Mark DeSantis said. “It’s up to these guys to see how bad they want it. We’ve got to want it more than the Fort Wayne team does.”
But forward Jeff Kyrzakos insists the pressure is on Fort Wayne to clinch in front of their home fans and not give the Rush any life.
“Really, at this point, it doesn’t matter. The pressure is off us. They have to win a fourth game and we can go and play some hockey,” said Kyrzakos, who scored a pair of goals to help Rapid City whittle away at an early 3-0 deficit in Thursday’s Game 4, an eventual 5-3 win for the Komets.
“Getting down 3-0, it’s tough to come back, but it’s a playoff game and we kept grinding it out,” DeSantis said. “We finally found our legs and our touch in front of the net.
“We had some costly mistakes and some turnovers at this time of the year that cannot happen. Good teams will put the puck (in the net) and that’s what Fort Wayne did to us (Thursday) night,” he said.
Rapid City has been in a similar spot before. The Rush were also pushed to the brink in last year’s conference finals with the Colorado Eagles, but bounced back with two straight wins to become one of three CHL teams since 2004 to force a Game 7 after trailing 3-1.
Odessa also leveled its conference finals series against Allen in 2010, as did Oklahoma City against Colorado in 2007.
All three teams fell in Game 7, including Rapid City’s heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Colorado last year at the Ice Arena.
Only twice in the 20 year history of the CHL has a team come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a series.
Also working against the Rush is the fact that Rapid City has yet to win a playoff game in Fort Wayne in five chances dating back to last year.
A key for the Rush will be to get pucks in on Komets goaltender Nick Boucher to bring him out from the net, then use heavy traffic around him to try to get open shots or rebounds.
“We were finally getting those in the third period (Thursday) night, but it was just a little too late,”DeSantis said.
Also vital, DeSantis said, is to establish their offense early with an early goal, and play the entire 60 minutes against the Komets.
Kyrzakos said the Rush are weary of hearing about the odds against them.
“We’ve heard from so many people all year and throughout the playoffs who are counting this team out or (complaining) about how we should be better. I think we’ve got a great team and I believe in our chances. It’s one game,” he said. “We’ll go out and try to win it on Sunday, and then we’ll worry about what happens after that.”