The Rapid City Rush did all they could do. Now it’s up to the Missouri Mavericks and Wichita Thunder.
Winston Day Chief, Jesse Schultz, Damian Surma and Tim Boron may have saved Rapid City’s last chance at clinching home-ice advantage in the Central Hockey League playoffs, earning the Rush a critical two points with a 2-1 shootout triumph over the Denver Cutthroats in yet another nail-biter between the two rivals.
The Rush cling to a 77-76 edge over the Mavericks for fourth place and home-ice advantage in the playoffs which start next weekend.
“We couldn’t have competed any harder to be 11 games over .500 the second half of the season. Give these guys credit. They put their noses to the grindstone. We’ve been playing playoff hockey since December,” Rush head coach Joe Ferras said.
The Mavericks and Thunder square off today for their season finale in Wichita. Even one point for the Mavericks gives them the spot because of tie-breakers in the season series with Rapid City. An outright Thunder win clinches home-ice for the Rush.
“Now we’ll wait and see. It’s in the hockey god’s hands,” Ferras said.
Day Chief scored in regulation, Schultz and Surma buried shootout goals and Boron stopped 26-of-27 in 65 minutes, then denied four Cutthroat skaters in the shootout to seal Rapid City’s 35th win.
“We know that our goalies are going to stop 3-out of-5, 4 out-of-5, 5 out of-5, so that always helps going in. Our job as shooters is to help our goalies out and score a few,” Surma said. “We did that tonight and Timmy stopped all of them.”
The two geographic rivals have combined for 11 one-goal decisions in Denver’s inaugural season, and 16th and final regular-season Central Hockey League matchup for both clubs didn’t defy the trend.
The Rush and Trout combined for 11 goals in a 6-5 overtime verdict Friday night. Saturday’s clash turned into a goaltender’s duel with just two tallies in the first two periods, setting up a wild scramble for the game-winner in the final frame and overtime.
The Rush outshot Denver 11-9 in the scoreless first period, but Rapid City grabbed the lead less than a minute into the second period on a power play goal.
Day Chief stuffed the puck through the five-hole on Patterson to give the Rush four man-advantage goals in their last seven games.
Kyle Peto and Jesse Schultz set up Day Chief, camped in the crease to clean up Peto’s shot on net.
But Denver sniper A.J. Gale, who lit up Rapid City for four goals including the overtime game winner Friday night, countered two minutes later snapping the wrist shot under Boron’s blocker off an assist from Sioux Falls native Glenn Cacaro.
The Rush, 35-24-7, will either host the Mavericks or travel to Missouri next weekend to start the quarterfinal round of the playoffs.
Denver, 30-26-10, still awaits its first round playoff opponent.
“It would have been nice to get (Rapid City) in the playoffs. It would have been a good series. I think we played much better the last two or three games. Our structure is much better. Hopefully we can take some momentum in,” Cutthroats head coach Derek Armstrong said.