Lightning struck lightning-fast to blindside the Rapid City Rush and end their season.
Fort Wayne’s Colin Chaulk scored just 51 seconds into overtime to hand Rapid City a 4-3 loss in Game 6 of the Turner Conference semifinals Tuesday night at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center Ice Arena.
Chaulk charged the net and was there to deflect Mike Vaskivuo’s feed past Rush goaltender Tim Boron and send the Komets to the conference finals, where they will host the Missouri Mavericks beginning Friday night.
Rapid City was down 3-1 in the best-of-seven series before a 4-1 victory on Sunday in Fort Wayne sent both teams back to Rapid City for what turned out to be a hard-fought Game 6.
The Rush erased a pair of one-goal deficits with clutch power-play goals, the last coming with just 1:40 left in regulation. Then, Rapid City couldn’t convert on a late open-net scramble in front of Komets netminder Nick Boucher.
“It was a great hockey game, but right before the overtime, we had an open net and couldn’t bury it,” Rush head coach Joe Ferras said.
Jean-Michel Rizk’s chip-in with just four minutes remaining could have been the game-winner, but Dominic D’Amour’s blast from the point deflected in off Reeder’s stick for the equalizer with 100 seconds to play.
“Rapid City got a huge goal at the end of the game and had all the momentum. We took it away from them right away,” Komets head coach Al Sims said.
“I didn’t think it was going to last long. Our guys were very focused tonight and very determined,” Sims said of the overtime.
Vaskivuo, who less than a month ago plied the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center ice as a forward for the Rush before being waived and quickly picked up by Fort Wayne, finished with three goals and five assists against his old team.
“What can you say about Vaskivuo? He’s come back to really haunt Rapid City,” Sims said.
The Komets, smelling a win and a showdown against well-rested Missouri, had the Rush reeling in the first period.
Fort Wayne took the early lead on Jamie Lovell’s clearing shot that sailed the length of the rink, skipped over a groove in the ice and bounced over Boron’s stick with 4:42 gone in the first period.
Brent Henley added to Rapid City’s early frustration by skating in deep and drilling a wrister past Boron for a 2-0 lead.
Rapid City found a much-needed spark when defenseman Dave Grimson waited for his chance from the top of the slot to put the puck on net. Les Reaney was there for the deflection — his first point of the post-season — with 3:19 left in the frame.
Scott Wray tied it up for Rapid City in the second period, taking the feed from Jesse Schultz behind the net and chipping it between Boucher and the post with 11:52 to go.
“We played hard. The outcome wasn’t what we wanted. We got beat. Two good teams going at it, and we got beat,” a dejected Wray said. “It stings. You train all summer and you play all year just to get that Cup again, and it just doesn’t seem worth it now when you get beat out in the first round.”
Boucher stopped 26 out of 29 shots for Fort Wayne to send his team to the conference finals. Boron made 36 saves on 40 shots in defeat for Rapid City.
“Timmy’s played so well and the guys battled back. It was a great hockey game,” Ferras said. “Obviously, it’s heartbreaking right now but there was no quit. It could easily have been a 4-2 series for us.”