Even though it took eight chances and a two-man advantage Friday night, scoring multiple power-play goals is almost a hallelujah cry for what’s been a beleaguered Rapid City special-teams unit late this season.
The Rush went 2-for-8 with the extra man Friday night, twice taking the lead with power-play goals and grabbing the momentum from Fort Wayne in a seesaw 6-3 victory over the Komets in Game 1 of the Turner Conference semifinals.
In the team’s final 10 regular-season games, Rapid City went just 5-for-38 (13.2 percent) with that advantage, a rate significantly below their 18 percent clip that was ranked seventh in the 14-team CHL.
The first three power plays at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center were lackluster, largely because of Fort Wayne’s ability to pinch off the passing lanes. But forward Collin Circelli, who tallied the eventual game-winner at even strength, said the Rush themselves were getting a bit too cute on the attack.
“We were trying to be a little too fancy and look for that pretty play. But then we just said, ‘Let’s get shots. Let’s get shots,’” Circelli said. “Maybe we would get some rebounds or some ugly goals, and it worked out for us.”
Work out and then some.
Rapid City needed to make the most of a two-man advantage with 8:30 to go in the second period of a 1-all game. Until that point in the frame, Fort Wayne had controlled the pace of play and had limited Rapid City to a handful of chances.
A second-chance opportunity sparked the offensive momentum, as a Shawn Limpright shot bounced out to Jesse Schultz, who poked the rebound past Komets goaltender Nick Boucher from just a few feet out with 7:28 remaining in the frame.
From there, the power play looked crisper, and the Rush were more patient and accurate with their cycling passes. The reward for the more deliberate style came with 12:34 to go in the contest when Circelli, who was aiming for Scott Wray on a far-side dump shot, hit Boucher’s arm with a feed from an extreme angle and later saw the puck dribble across the goal line for a tally that gave Rapid City the lead for good.
Circelli leaped in the air with both arms raised and stayed in that state of shocked jubilation until his linemates joined in the fun.
“I was happy to see it go in,” Circelli agreed, smirking. “… It definitely was a good bounce. I was trying to get it on net to (Wray) for a rebound, and it hit (Boucher’s) arm and found the net.”
Schultz said the Rush knew they needed to switch up the thought process when on the attack.
“You always talk about things after the first couple of power plays and try to make adjustments,” he said. “We did that tonight, and it seemed to look better at the end for us.”
Indeed, multiple-goal efforts from the power play have been preciously rare commodities.
Friday was the first time since an 8-4 win Feb. 29 at Arizona, a span of 14 games, that the power-play unit had found the net twice.
None of the offensive players hopes it takes that long again. Tonight’s Game 2 would be a perfect time for another inspired effort, and Schultz hopes it doesn’t take a third-period deficit to unleash the lions.
“Both these games are must-wins,” Schultz said, “especially going back to their barn and how hard it is to win there. … Maybe it was some desperation on our part, but we played a little better after getting down a goal.”