Originally Posted Online: April 12, 2014, 11:21 pm
Last Updated: April 13, 2014, 5:51 pm

`Turnabout' turns out great for Mallards

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By Steve Tappa, stappa@qconline.com

More photos from this shoot
Photo: John Greenwood/jgreenwood@qconline.com
Quad City Mallards Jeff Lee and Darren McMillian (6) work hard in front of the Rapid City net as Rush defender Brett Kostolansky tries to help goalie Wayne Savage during second period of Saturday’s CHL playoff game at the iWireless Center in Moline. The Mallards beat the Rush 3-1.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: John Greenwood/jgreenwood@qconline.com
Quad City Mallard Matt Boyd is engulfed by Rapid City Rush players Kevin Harvey and Jared Brown during first period play Saturday evening in the iWireless Center for a playoff berth.

MOLINE -- Ty Rimmer patiently sat on the sidelines the last week, biding his time for a playoff return that might never come.

A victim of defensive lapses in front of him during a 5-1 Game 1 loss last Friday at Rapid City, the CHL's All-Rookie squad goaltender gave way to Thomas Heemskerk, and happily watched his season-long co-starter allow three goals in two games to get the Quad City Mallards a series lead.

However, after Rapid City also successfully switched up momentum in net Friday, replacing CHL title-winner Tim Boron with little-used Wayne Savage to even the first round matchup, QC coach Terry Ruskowski tapped Rimmer for another case of turnabout magic.

Rimmer made the strategy work for a third time Saturday in this back-and-forth series, turning away 20 shots, and coming within a controversial third-period goal of pitching his fourth shutout of the season in the Mallards 3-1 win in Game 5 at Moline's iWireless Center

``Whenever there's a goalie change, you want to play better,'' QC forward Justin Fox said. ``But one of the positives we've had all year is two goalies who can really play. We never doubt Heemer or Rimmer. It doesn't matter who's in the cage, and that works in our favor.''

Rimmer compared the move to using a fireballer to relieve a junkball pitcher in baseball.

``Obviously, that first game out was a little tough. You never want to be taken out,'' Rimmer said. ``But that's what we've done all year. We're blessed withb two elite goalies and that's something a lot of teams don't have.

``We used it in the regular season to our advantage and we're doing it in the playoffs now, too. Especially in the postseason, when a team gets used to playing against Thomas, I can come in and I play a different style, which throws teams off.''

Fox both scored a goal and assisted on another in the game's first 10 1/2 minutes, and Vladimir Nikiforov answered Rapid City's only score with his first goal and playoff-leading seventh point for the Flock's 3-2 series lead.

The best-of-seven matchup now shifts back to South Dakota, where the Mallards need only to win Game 6 (Tuesday) or 7 (Wednesday) for their first playoff series victory since 2002-03.

Rapid City's 22 wins at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center was tied for the best home mark during the regular season in the Double-A circuit.

However, the Mallards beat the Rush at home during the regular season, and in Game 2 of this series.

``We've won there before, but now we have to close it out in Game 6,'' said QC coach Terry Ruskowski, a playing veteran of 999 NHL games and 19 coaching campaigns in minor league hockey. ``Nobody wants to play a Game 7 on the road. Strange things can happen, and that's already a tough place to play.''

Despite the game-changing trend, Ruskowski said he'll stick with Rimmer for that contest, while Rapid City coach Joe Ferras has a tough call after Savage turned away 30 shots, and exited the first period trailing only 2-0 despite a 19-8 shots on goal advantage by the fired-up Flock.

``Savage played really well,'' Ruskowski said. ``We had a lot of good scoring chances, especially early, and we could have been up 5-0 after one period.''

Hungarian import Gergo Nagy got the ball rolling, rebounding home a Fox shot early in the contest. Fox then followed with a power-play goal for the 2-0 edge with only 10:28 gone.

``I've had good looks this series, but they just haven't gone my way, so it was nice to finally get one,'' Fox said. ``I was with Nags and (rookie Jordan) Mayer and we've played some games together before, but (Saturday) our chemistry was really clicking from the get-go.

``(Nagy is) a great skill player and I'm a shooter, so I just try and get open for him. On the first one, he made a great play and sucked the guy to him and then he kept going and I just tried to put it in there where he could put a stick on it.''

After that, Rimmer and an inspired QC defense kept the 2-0 lead alive into the third period when a Rapid City player went flying into Rimmer to allow Kevin Harvet's goal. The controversial score was the fourth in as many games by the two teams combined in this series.

``I don't know if he got pushed into him, or he got a toe pick, and went right into my goalie. But, holy smokes, my goalie is on his back and the guy is on top of him, and that leaves a wide open net?'' Ruskowski said. ``I don't know why it wasn't called (interference). You have to protect the goalies.''

Vladimir Nikiforov answered right back, though, scoring 39 seconds later to push the lead back to a two-goal cushion. The goal was Nikiforov's first this playoff series and CHL-leading seventh playoff point.

``It was a good bounce and really good pass by Lee,'' Nikiforov said. ``I was about to go behind the net, but he shot it in front, and then I followed it in. It was a good forecheck by Lee and a nice dump by (Thomas) Frazee.''

The call to go to the goalie bullpen turned out just as good.

``It was such a hard decision after Thomas played well the last three games,'' Ruskowski said. ``I brought my captains in here, and they couldn't pick. So I brought Rimmer and Heemskerk both in here and they said, `Whoever plays, that's OK. It's the playoff and we just want to win.' What a great attitude. They gave me confidence to go with my gut.''