For 58 minutes and 30 seconds, Rapid City dominated play and led visiting Wichita 2-0. The last minute and a half, it was anybody’s guess as the Rush withstood a late goal and then a penalty shot in the final seconds to earn a hard-fought 2-1 win over the Thunder at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.
The frantic finish in the final seconds came about when Rush goalie Tyler Parks was assessed a delay of game penalty for dislodging the goal from its post during a scramble in front of the net setting up a penalty shot by the Thunder’s Taylor Cammarata with 1.8 seconds on the clock.
Fortunately, Parks went to the memory bank as Cammarata skated in to fend off the final shot of the night and preserve the Rapid City victory.
“I knew he’s a skilled guy since I had played against him in junior hockey, and I figured he would make a couple of moves and then shoot, and I was able to respond and make the save,” said Parks who had 19 saves on the night though none bigger than the finale. “It got a little hectic there at the finish with the penalties but the guys played hard tonight and we got a big win.”
Rapid City’s penalty kill unit saw plenty of action in the opening period as the Rush were short-handed on three occasions. Facing one of the ECHL’s best power play unit — Wichita came in third in league converting 24.4 percent of power play chances on the road—minutes in the sin bin seemed a recipe for disaster. Nix that as the Rapid City penalty kill unit not only shut down the Thunder power play but did so convincingly allowed but two shots on goal during the six-minute span.
“The penalty kill was unbelievable tonight,” Rush coach Danny Tetrault said. “They were blocking shots and skating and clearing pucks. The penalty kill unit has been great since the first of the year. I would have liked to see us do something on the power play tonight (Rush were 0-6), but we had some opportunities and just didn’t go in.”
And though Rapid City was blanked on the scoreboard as well in the scoreless first period, the Rush dominated play when teams were at full-strength outshooting Wichita 11-8 in the period.
Stymied on a couple of power play opportunities in the second period, the Rush continued to dominate push the puck and were finally rewarded when with 10:49 remaining in the second period as rookie Cedric Montminy tapped in a rebound of his own shot for his 10th goal of the season. Tyler Poulsen and Pierre-Luc Mercier earned helpers on the score.
The Sherbrooke, Quebec, native doubled up with his second goal of the period at the 4:00 minute mark of the frame as the Rush converted a two-on-one opportunity as Montminy found skated in unmolested and went near post for his second tally of the game. Pierre-Luc Mercier and Poulsen each added their second assist of the game.
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“I have to give credit to my linemates tonight. They had the puck on my stick all night,” Montminy said. “The first goal I was in position and just pushed it in an empty net, and then the second one was the same thing really. Easy goals for me, I love them that way. And all thanks to my teammates.”
Rapid City has done a good job of protecting a lead when leading after two periods (7-2-1). Solid defense aided by an over-aggressive play by the Thunder resulting in three penalties and a short-handed situation through much of the period.
Nonetheless, with the third goal of the game perhaps crucial, the Rush penalty kill unit was called upon three times in the final period. Unfortunately, the law of averages caught up to the Rush as Taylor Cammarata converted a wrister with 1:30 remaining to draw Wichita with 2-1 setting up a frantic finale.
“I didn’t care for any of those last penalties frankly, which made the game closer than I though it should have been,” Tetrault said. “Our guys were flying around for most of the night and trying to take it one shift, one game at a time now.”
Parks wasn’t called upon often but when duty called in the final minute, the rookie rose to the occasion with the last second stuff the biggest of his 19 saves in posting his fourth win of the season (4-5-2).
“Tyler was unbelievable,” Tetrault said. “He’s been dialed in here lately and played that way on the stock show trip.
Having dropped five of seven during a two-week road trip that annually coincides with the Black Hill Stock Show, the Rapid City Rush came on to home ice very much in need of win to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive.
“It’s a great way to come home though we aren’t really looking at the standings,” Tetrault said. “We just want to play hard until April and see what happens.”
The Rush (19-24-4-3) and Thunder (19-21-5-3) close out the weekend two-game series on Saturday at 7:05 p.m.