On Wednesday night the Rapid City Rush and Wichita Thunder met in the first game of a three-and-a-half week stretch during which they will face each other six times.
The games are of considerable importance in that the two teams came into the contest tied for the fourth (43 points) and the last playoff spot in the Mountain Division.
The Rush certainly played that way, responding with the team’s best offensive performance of the season scoring in every phase of the game en route to an impressive 8-2 win at the Rushmore Plaza Ice Arena.
The win resulted from solid efforts in all phases of the game from special teams, puck controlling excellence on offensive and a solid defensive effort in front of goalie Alex Sakellaropoulos, who recorded 26 saves in earning his fifth win of the season.
“We played great tonight,” Rush coach Danny Tetrault said. “Offensively, we were patient in the offensive zone, we got on the forecheck and were first on pucks, and we got traffic to the net, and the result was 40 shots and eight goals. We watched a lot of film on Wichita and saw what we could do better in the offensive zone. The best defense is your offense and we showed that tonight.”
Highlighting the win was a superior all-around team effort with six multi-point performances by Rush players.
With several penalties and 5-on-4 hockey predominating, power-play goals resulted with the Rush lighting the lamp twice in the first period. With 3:33 remaining, defenseman Charles-David Beaudoin, unchallenged, skated in front the right point an unleashing a wrister that ripped the twine top-shelf. The goal was Beaudoin’s fourth of the season and came via assists by Jalen Smereck and Keeghan Howdeshell.
After Wichita converted a fourth power-play chance 31 seconds later on a blast by Chris Crane from the high slot to draw even at 1-1, the Rush added the final goal of the period on an highlight reel unassisted effort by Smereck — on his 23rd birthday — as he led the Rush single-handedly, skating across the low slot and scoring on a back-hander.
Five-on-four goals remained the meal du jour in the second period with each team adding a power play goal, and the Rush adding a short-handed tally as well.
Ryker Killins added Rapid’s second goal from a blue-liner with a power play goal (second of the season), an assisted effort on a slapper from the top of the right face-off circle, and after Wichita scored a power play goal, Brendon Saulnier added the short-hander (13th) on a nifty cross-ice pass from Darian Romanko.
“Our defense played well and Killins finally got a goal,” Tetrault added. “He’s been snake-bit, and on our power play came alive (3 of 5). We were moving the puck and finding the open man. Everyone contributed and it was fun to watch.”
Cedric Montminy, on his first appearance since the eighth game of the season due to injury, added an even-strength goal to give the Rush a 5-2 advantage.
“Having Cedric back was huge for us tonight,” Tetrault said. “He provide that spark, that leadership on and off the ice. Everyone forgets about him but he was our top scorer last year and our inspiration leader and having him back, the boys were pumped and he was, too.”
The third period was all Rush as Romanko, Howdeshell and Dexter Danks adding third-period goals.
Rapid City (21-14-3-0) caps off a busy week — and the interdivisional portion of the season schedule — with three games on the road this weekend, meeting the Indy Fuel on Friday night and the Cincinnati Cyclones on Saturday and Sunday before returning home next week for three more games against Wichita.