Coming off a 5-2 win over the Tulsa Oilers Wednesday, the Rapid City Rush were riding high, ready to move into a tie for sixth place in the Mountain Division of the ECHL with a win in regulation Friday night.
Instead, they were brought back down to earth.
An inspired defensive effort by the Oilers and a sloppy third period by the Rush led Tulsa to a 3-1 win Friday night, with all three Oiler goals came in the final period.
"We didn't play well. We got outworked in our own arena tonight," Rapid City coach Daniel Tetrault said. "It's embarrassing. We played like we were the first-place team but we're in last place. It's unacceptable and if they don't bring it (Saturday), I've got ice all day on Sunday. They can decide."
Tetrault made it clear that he was upset by the loss, and said the Rush would look different for tonight's rubber match with Tulsa.
"I'll be switching my lineup. Embarrassing, absolutely not acceptable," he said. "We got outworked, we got outshot, we got outhit. You win one game and they think they're in first place and they're invincible. It was an embarrassing performance by my guys."
The Oilers outshot the Rush 38-27.
The first period was dominated by Tulsa goaltender Jake Hildebrand. The Rush had numerous opportunities from Oiler turnovers in their own zone but Hildebrand was able to keep the puck out of his net for the first 20 minutes.
With 7:53 remaining in the first period, Marcus Ortiz and Kale Kessy exchanged punches in the first and only fight of the night.
The first period ended with no score and Rapid City holding a 8-7 shots on goal advantage.
The second period featured more opportunities for the Rush, but in the early going, they could not put the puck in the back of the net.
A cross-checking minor put Matt Caito in the penalty box for Rapid City, and although Tulsa generated some shots on that power play, it was unable to score on Vay, who ended the night with 34 saves on 36 shots.
"He played well, he was dialed in. He didn't have any help out there," Tetrault said of his goalie's performance. "In one instance they had five shots in a row in front of our own goal. Too many guys swinging, we didn't play physical tonight. We thought it was going to be an easy night because we won 5-2 Wednesday."
Finally, Alex Guptill was able to end the scoreless drought.
He scored his fourth goal of the season with only 1:33 remaining in the period on an unassisted take to the net. The period ended with the Rush leading 1-0.
Tulsa would come out of the locker room with renewed energy, and only 43 seconds in, the Oilers were rewarded.
On an assist from Alexandere Ranger, Connor Bleackley was finally able to get the puck by Vay and tied the score at one.
It seemed that the Oilers were playing with increased emotion all night, partly because it was the first time in six days they had their coach, Rob Murray, back behind the bench.
During a game against the Quad City Mallards Murray had to be taken to the hospital last week because of dehydration and exhaustion. He was back with Tulsa Friday, and Tetrault said he knew the Oilers would be fired up.
"Give credit to Tulsa, they were playing with a lot of emotion. Their coach was back and I addressed it before the game that they were going to come out hard, and they did," he said. "They played well and they played hard. We have to regroup tomorrow that's for sure."
Both teams had ample opportunities to score the deciding goal in the next 15 minutes, but stellar play from Hildebrand and Vay kept the score even at one.
Until Charlie Stampair delivered a dagger.
On a breakaway Stampair was fed a perfect pass from Evan Richardson on a 2-on-1 breakaway, and from there Stampair was able to sneak a puck by Vay on his left with 3:30 remaining.
With 2:02 remaining, the Rush went on a power play when Bleackley was sent to the box. Rapid City pulled its goalie so it would have a 6-on-4 advantage, but with 1:05 remaining, Dylan Hubbs was able to secure the empty-net goal to end any hope for a Rush equalizer.
Tetrault didn't say what specific lineup changes he would make, but he was convinced that his team needs a jolt after what happened Friday night.
"A lot of guys need to step up. I'm not happy, especially when you're in your own building and you get outworked like that in the third period," he said. "I'll just be inserting guys who were sitting tonight into the lineup. What guys don't realize is they're playing for their jobs. I've got extra bodies here. If you're not going to work hard and perform, you're going to be out of here. That's the way it is."
Rapid City now has 12 points, while Tulsa has 16.
"(Saturday) is a new day and they better bring it," Tetrault said of his team. "This can't happen, especially at home."
The loss drops Rapid City to 6-10-0-0 on the season while Tulsa is now 6-7-2-2. The two teams meet again tonight at 7:05 p.m.