Originally Posted Online: March 30, 2013, 10:48 pm
Last Updated: March 30, 2013, 11:36 pm

Overtime heartbreaker for Mallards; QC trails playoff series, 2-0

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Staff report, sports@qconline.com

NORTH RICHLAND HILLS, Texas -- A delayed training camp. A season saved at the last second. Out of the playoffs until the final month of the regular season.

The Quad City Mallards have overcome so much this season. Now, they need to find a way to erase a 2-0 deficit in the CHL playoffs.

The shorthanded Flock face that dark postseason proposition after falling short of hurdling their latest case of adversity Saturday night, a 3-2 overtime loss to Fort Worth at the tight-and-tiny NYTEX Sports Centre.

Despite playing without CHL Rookie of the Year Mike Hellyer and top-line defenseman Bob Preece, the Mallards owned leads of 1-0 and 2-1 in the first period.

However, as was the case in Thursday's 4-1 decision in the series opener, third-seeded Fort Worth rallied past the sixth-seeded Mallards for a victory in the best-of-7 playoff series.

To add insult to injury, John Snowden, a veteran forward on last season's Mallards, beat his old team with a goal 4:47 into sudden-death overtime.

The Mallards have beaten Fort Worth just once in six tries this season, though that win came March 3 in the Brahmas last visit to Moline's i wireless Center.

If necessary, QC hosts the next three games of the series starting Wednesday night.

Regardless, Mallards coach Terry Ruskowski confirmed on the team's radio broadcast that Hellyer will miss the rest of the playoffs after suffering a serious knee injury in Game 1.

Preece's return is uncertain, with the veteran listed as day-to-day with a concussion suffered in the opener.

Both Hellyer and Preece were injured on contentious hits in the first five minutes of the series. The Double-A circuit can't review the plays, though, with the CHL TV feed down early in that contest, preventing the hits from appearing on the videotape of the game.

"It's real bad,'' Ruskowski said about Hellyer's injury. "He may have to have surgery.The fact there are no repercussions possible for the other team really sits sour with me.''

Despite missing those two, the Mallards were down only one skater Saturday, with little-used Gabriel Boutin-Gagnon pressed into spot duty on defense by QC. Ruskowski remains looking for a replacement for Hellyer.

"The tough part is we're missing more than just two guys,'' the Mallards coach said. "We're missing the (CHL) Rookie of the Year and a top blue-liner. You don't just replace those guys.''

Not that the Mallards didn't try Saturday.

QC's rookie goaltender, Neil Conway, made an inspired playoff debut, getting the start instead of veteran Game 1 netminder John Murray.

Conway turned away 34-of-37 shots, but after QC's 10 shots on goal in the opening frame, the Flock managed just 13 more attempts, and none in overtime as the defensive-minded Brahmas once again choked off the Mallards offense.

The Mallards also managed but one power-play chance, compared to Fort Worth's 1-for-4 success rate on the man-advantage.

"We were not punishing John for losing the other night,'' Ruskowski explained. "We just wanted to change things up and keep them both fresh and sharp. There's still a long way to go.''

As was the case in Game 1, the Mallards got the lead again -- twice this time.

First, QC captain Darren McMillan scored shorthanded with help from Jason Dixon, just short of the 15-minute mark.

QC led the CHL with 15 shorthanded goals during the regular season.

Tomas Klempa evened the score, though, with a power-play goal for Fort Worth 2 1/2 minutes later.

However, QC scoring leader Mickey Lang answered with 45 ticks left in the opening period, redirecting shot by rookie defender Matt Carlson. McMillan also got an assist.

Conway made the 2-1 lead standup with several point-blank saves until 1:41 into the third frame, when Callin Wild scored the equalizer on a one-timer.

McMillan's two points for QC were balanced by two assists by Fort Worth defender Ross Rouleau, as the Mallards fell for the first time in three overtime decisions this season.