The Quad City Mallards had a chance to play leapfrog Tuesday night.|
Instead, the Flock failed to muster much of a jump early, and midseason hopes of bounding up the CHL standings were shot down in a shootout by Arizona, 3-2 at Moline's i wireless Center.
The setback kept QC (14-15-4, 32 points) behind the visiting Sundogs (15-16-4, 34 points) for the eighth-and-final playoff spot in the 10-team Double-A circuit.
The Mallards start a brutal second half of their schedule this weekend with road games at rivals Bloomington (Thursday and Friday) and Missouri (Saturday).
QC faces Arizona three more times this season, but hosts only one of those crucial head-to-head meetings, Feb. 16.
"This was such a big game for us,'' QC coach Terry Ruskowski lamented. "This could have put us up above them by a point with games in hand. But we came out really flat.
"You never know what you're going to get out of these guys. Just when I think these guys are down, they will come out and play unbelievable. But just when you think they've turned a corner, they take a step back like tonight.''
Arizona took advantage to jump ahead, 2-0 with a pair of "bad goals'' against goalie John Murray, according to Ruskowski.
Chad Nehring, the CHL's reiging Player of the Week, and Kevin Petovello had the Sundogs' scores in the opening 8 minutes and 15 seconds.
"John's a good guy and a good goalie,'' Ruskowski said. "He works hard. He's just struggling now.
"We had good practices after a good game Friday and then we lay an egg in the first period. We played better after that, but the start beat us.''
Murray shutdown Arizona until the shootout, and the Mallards forced overtime on goals from scoring leader Mickey Lang (second period) and Patrik Levesque (third period).
The latter score came from the league's worst power play with 6:49 remaining.
Arizona held off the comeback, though, on Nehring's second goal of the night, the only penalty shot scored in the shootout.
Former Mallards goalie Adam Russo also turned away 31 shots, not including all five QC penalty shots in the shootout.
"They were really disciplined,'' Ruskowski said. "They played their position well. They didn't give us an inch. And the goalie played really well.
"But we were taking shots from the point and nobody was in front of the net. Let me be a goalie. I can make those stops.
"We have got to be more physical. We have to start hitting people. We're making it easy on teams coming in here. We have to be consistently better.''
That challenge becomes tougher with the Mallards losing Brett Robinson to ECHL Idaho in a player scramble Tuesday, with the NHL lockout settled Sunday.
Robinson just scored four points, including a goal, in QC's upset win over Denver on Friday.
Ruskowski hopes to have a replacement by this weekend's roadtrip, but notes it's hard to find players right now, with 14 CHL players to date on the move since Sunday.
"I've been making calls to the Southern Professional League and they're hurting, too,'' Ruskowski said. "They're down to four defensemen and less than two lines. So we're all trying to find players.''