A familiar face led to an achingly familiar result for the Rapid City Rush on Wednesday night.
Former Rapid City forward Mike Vaskivuo notched the eventual game-winning goal against his old team in the third period to lift the Fort Wayne Komets to a 3-1 win at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum and a 2-1 series lead in the CHL’s Turner Conference semifinals.
Vaskivuo, snapped up by Fort Wayne hours after the Rush released him on March 13, was in the right spot to corral Frankie DeAngelis’ rebound, chip it past Rush goaltender Tim Boron with 7 minutes, 36 seconds remaining in regulation and break a 1-all deadlock.
Kaleigh Schrock added an insurance empty-netter to seal it for Fort Wayne.
Game 3 turned out to be carbon copy of Saturday’s Game 2 in Rapid City, also a 3-1 decision for Fort Wayne.
The Komets grabbed the early lead Saturday in Rapid City, with the Rush gaining the equalizer in the second period, only to have Fort Wayne score a late go-ahead goal and seal it with an empty netter.
Brett Smith beat a Rush defenseman with just 2:48 gone in the game by swatting the puck out of mid-air, then going five-hole on Boron.
The narrow lead stood until midway through the second frame, when Rapid City’s Collin Circelli took advantage of a fortuitous bounce off of a metal strip dividing the glass behind the Komets’ cage.
Fort Wayne goaltender Nick Boucher had scooted behind the net to field Michael Couch’s hard-around pass, only to have the puck ricochet into the slot for the easy chip-in.
Fort Wayne’s blue liners otherwise kept the shooting lanes clear for Boucher, who faced just 21 shots. Boron made 33 stops on 35 Komet attempts.
“We’ve got to get traffic in front of this guy. He’s a big kid and he’s playing well,” Rush head coach Joe Ferras said. “They score on rebounds and chips-ins right in front of the net, and that’s what we’ve got to do. The goaltenders are too good at this level to beat them from 20 or 30 feet out.”
To level the series, Rapid City will need to pressure Boucher as it did in the third period of Game 1, scoring four unanswered goals en route to a 6-3 win.
“We’re trying to make too many passes. We’ve got to keep it simple and bang in rebounds,” Circelli said.
The Komets own the home-ice advantage, with a pivotal Game 4 set for 5:30 p.m. MDT tonight and Game 5 on Sunday.
Rapid City must win one of those games to force a Game 6 in Rapid City on Tuesday. Game 7, if necessary, is on April 12 in Fort Wayne.
“We know the situation we’re in. We’re going to rebound and have a great game (today),” Circelli said. “It’s a must-win.”