Originally Posted Online: April 05, 2014, 11:42 pm
Last Updated: April 06, 2014, 4:39 pm

Mallards rally in OT to tie series

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Staff report, sports@qconline.com

RAPID CITY, S.D. -- The Quad City Mallards worked overtime Saturday night to bounce back from one of their most humiliating losses of the season.

Matt Duffy took advantage of an extra-session starting, 5-on-3 power-play opportunity, to score the 3-2 game-winner 72 seconds into sudden death and even the Flock's CHL President's Cup playoff series with Rapid City at one win apiece.

Just 24 hours earlier, the Rush were celebrating at South Dakota's Rushmore Plaza Civic Center after a dominating 5-1 victory to open the best-of-seven, first-round matchup between the CHL's fourth and fifth seeds.

The series now heads to Moline's iWireless Center for Games 3, 4 and 5, with the Mallards hosting Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. The Rush won't host again unless Game 6 (April 15) and a deciding Game 7 (April 16) are required.

Tickets for Mallards home playoff games can be purchased at the box office, online at ticketmaster.com or through Ticketmaster charge-by-phone toll free at 1-800-745-3000. The admission to Wednesday's game is only $2.

``This was a dramatic turnaround for us,'' QC coach Terry Ruskowski said. ``If we'd have lost this one, we probably lose a little morale, knowing we had a chance to win late and didn't do it. Things would have become that much tougher for us to win the series. But now, this gives us an opportunity to push forward.''

The victory was only the fourth win in the 19-year-old local franchise's 18 playoff games since first-round postseason elimination in 2005-06.

QC's three-time league champs, and six-time championship series participants, last won a playoff series in the 2002-03 season, when the Mallards reached the UHL finals.

However, Saturday's comeback hardly was a surprise, with the teams splitting six regular-season matchups, and the Flock going 1-1-1 at Rapid City before this postseason series.

``Just because we're the home team now doesn't mean we should start celebrating,'' said Ruskowski, a twin title-winner both as a CHL coach and a playing captain in the NHL-rival WHA. ``This is only one victory, and you need four to take the series.

``They're a great team and they've won in our building this season. So things won't get any easier. They're going to be mad and the intensity will naturally go up now, with them really coming at us now. So let the games begin now.''

A delay of game penalty against Rapid City's Kyle Stroh, on a faceoff with seven seconds remaining in regulation, gave defenseman Duffy and the local Double-A minor-league hockey team the game-winning power-play opportunity for the first 1:50 of the extra session.

The penalty against Stroh came three seconds after slashing also was called against former Mallards defenseman Bobby Preece.

``After it happened, and we went into the locker room (for a third full intermission before overtime), we knew that was our best, and maybe last chance to win the game,'' Ruskowski said. ``We knew the clock was ticking. We had to take advantage. It's the kind of play that can decide the whole series.''

Both when the Stroh penalty was called, and after Duffy one-timed the game-winner from the left-wing circle, a crowd of 3,606 cascaded their booing displeasure on the officiating crew, which was led by referee Jake Brenk.

Ironically, Brenk ejected Ruskowski for arguing a call from a late February blowout loss at Allen.

``A penalty is a penalty, whether it's the first minute or last second,'' Ruskowski said. ``That was a rule they just put in a year or two ago, so it was a good call by the referee.

``Off the draw, if a center iceman puts his hand or glove on the puck, it's a penalty. If we had touched it first, that would have been OK, but since nobody else touched it, it was a rookie mistake on his part. The kid has been playing very well for them. He's a big center iceman and does a lot of good things, but that was a mental error we had to capitalize on.''

The Mallards forced overtime with the only third-period goal, which came shorthanded from Hungarian import Gergo Nagy, 73 seconds into the frame.

The score, on a Rapid City power play, came on a two-on-one rush for QC, and marked a CHL-best 13th shortie by the Flock this season.

Vladimir Nikiforov, who assisted on all three Mallards goals, also helped the Mallards take the early lead on a first-period power play score by defenseman Benjamin Dieude-Fauvel.

``Nagy's goal made all the difference for us,'' Ruskowski said. ``That was a mental lift for us to get back even, and gave us a chance to win. That was the turning point of the game.''

In between those two special-teams scores by QC, Rapid City got goals for the second straight night from Jesse Schultz (51 seconds left in the first period) and Scott Brannon (2:41 into the second frame).

Goals by Schultz and Brannon helped the 2010 CHL champs win Game 1, 5-1 Friday.

Title-winning goalie Tim Boron gave Rapid City a chance at taking a 2-0 series lead.

The CHL's leader in goals-against average this season, Boron turned away 24 of QC's 26 shots in regulation, including all but one of QC's eight power-play chances, but was matched in goal this time by Thomas Heemskerk.

QC's co-starter this season, Heemskerk gave way to All-CHL Rookie Ty Rimmer in the series opener, but came back in Game 2 to turn away 28 of 30 shots.

``Heemer played really well, and we played well enough in front of him defensively,'' Ruskowski said. ``We had our chances offensively. We hit the crossbar three times and some other good looks, but we couldn't seem to bury the puck. We had to find a way.''

A physically grinding contest was pock-marked with penalties, with a combined 28 minutes of infractions whistled for 56 minutes in the penalty box.