MOLINE, Ill. | There's been a lot of talk in the first round of the Central Hockey League playoffs between the Quad-City Mallards and Rapid City Rush. Forward Vladimir Nikiforov has just played hockey.
Moments after the Mallards lost a chance at a shutout, Nikiforov responded by burying a centering pass from Jeff Lee to give Quad-City a 3-1 Game 5 victory Saturday night.
"It was a good comeback right away," said Nikiforov, who leads the team with seven points. "It was a wonderful pass from Lee ... just a gift he gave me."
The Mallards own a 3-2 series lead with a chance to win the seven-game series in Game 6 on Tuesday in Rapid City. That game starts at 7:05 p.m. at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center Ice Arena. Game 7, if needed, would be Wednesday.
"It's time for us to go home, regroup and take Game 6," Rush captain Scott Wray said. "But we can't look at it that way, we've got to look at it every shift every time. Prepare the right way and do our jobs."
The Mallards came out in Game 5 an entirely different team than the one that was dominated in Friday's Game 4 loss, playing smothering defense and outshooting the Rush 33-21 in the game, 19-8 in the first period.
"We just need to not get in our own heads," forward Jim McKenzie said. "You've got to look to get on them early, and that's what we did tonight."
Gergo Nagy scored his second goal of the playoffs at the 6-minute, 6-second mark of the first period, burying a centering pass from Justin Fox.
"I think we played our best period in the playoffs," Nagy said. "We were doing things we have to do, we were shooting the puck, everybody was doing his job. If you play like that, you can see the result."
Nagy returned the favor just over four minutes later on a power play, finding Justin Fox for a one-time that beat Rush goalie Wayne Savage just over the glove.
The Mallards didn't score in the second period but never let up, keeping the play down in the Rush end, allowing goalie Ty Rimmer to enjoy a relatively easy night
"Right from puck drop I knew we were going to win," said Rimmer, who made 20 saves. "We didn't give them a whole lot and when we did I made a couple saves and guys were able to help me out on the rebounds. It's great when you see that, everybody going and doing their job, not trying to do too much. It's a recipe for success."
The Rush scored their lone goal in the third period on a controversial call, the fourth-straight game that has lent to one team criticizing the officials.
After a lone defensive breakdown led to a Rush breakaway, Rimmer made the save but was run into by a Rapid City player. No interference penalty was called and Kevin Harvey scored on a wide-open net with Rimmer on his back at 5:28.
"I don't know if he got pushed into him or he had a toe-pick and went right into my goalie but holy smokes," coach Terry Ruskowski said. "My goalie's on his back and the guy's on top of him and the guy has a wide-open net. I don't know, but you've got to protect the goalies."
The refs ruled that defenseman Darren McMillan had pushed the player into Rimmer, negating the penalty.
Nikiforov made it a moot point, scoring at 6:07 to put the game away.
The game ended with McKenzie and former Mallard Bobby Preece engaged in a brawl that saw McKenzie throw Preece to the ice and land several shots, a perfect ending to the complete game the Mallards played.
"The better team won tonight," Wray said. "That's exactly what happened. They beat us all over the ice and that's exactly what they had to do in their home rink."