Posted Online: April 13, 2014, 9:30 pm
`Bad Vlad' incredibly good in Mallards playoff run
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By Steve Tappa, email@example.com
MOLINE -- Vladimir Nikiforv finished fifth among Quad City Mallards this regular season with 45 points.
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Vladimir Nikiforov (9) takes the puck to the net Saturday in the Quad City Mallards 3-1 victory over Rapid City in Game 5 of their CHL playoff series. Nikiforov scored the decidimg goal in Game 5, and is the leading scorer in the series, with the Flock taking a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 series heading into Tuesday's Game 6 in South Dakota.
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Quad City Mallards' Vladimir Nikiforov (9) prepares to slide the puck past Mavericks' goalie Shane Owen (50) for the Mallards first goal of the evening Saturday, March 22, 2014.
Vladimir Nikiforov, Quad City Mallards forward.
Gergo Nagy, Quad City Mallards forward.
The 26-year-old native Russian and New York transplant also ranked only third on the local minor-league hockey team with 31 assists.
However, so far in the playoffs, Nikiforov has gone from pedestrian to powerhouse.
The veteran voted the Double-A circuit's second-fastest skater this year by his playing peers owns a CHL-playoff best six assists.
Nikiforov also is the leading scorer with seven points overall in QC's playoff series with Rapid City heading into Game 6 Tuesday in South Dakota.
The Mallards took a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 first rounder Saturday with a 3-1 victory at Moline's iWireless Center.
Nikiforov scored a decisive third-period goal in that contest for his first playoff marker on American soil since his rookie season in pro hockey in 2008-09.
"It's been awhile,'' laughed Nikiforov, who had two goals in a three-game playoff loss for the ECHL's Utah Grizzlies that season.
"I scored a playoff goal when I played in Russia last season, and I had playoff goals in each of my three seasons in (major juniors). But this was my biggest. We really needed it.''
Nikiforov's score came 39 seconds after Rapid City drew within 2-1 with the Rush's lone Game 5 goal.
The marker helped push the Mallards a victory away, with two games to play if necessary, of scoring the Flock's first playoff series win since 2002-03.
The goal also continued productive play by Nikiforov late this season. He has points in 12 of his last 14 games since March 17.
"He's playing the way we all knew he could play,'' QC coach Terry Ruskowski said. "He's so fast, handles it so well and is such a great creator.
"His scoring numbers were not living up to the way he was playing early this season. But we also talked about him holding on to the puck a little too long, waiting for our guys to get into scoring position, so instead now he's just letting it go a tick quicker and it's paying off.''
Ditto for playing on the same line with QC's regular-season scoring leader Jeff Lee, and Thomas Frazee, with the change coming with the CHL Rookie of the Year candidate coming back from injury the last day of February.
"We have such good chemistry,'' Nikiforov said. "I love playing with Lee, because he creates space for me to operate. He's so smart and he's got great vision.
"Thomas is a scorer, and I've always been a playmaker. I like to draw the defender to me, and create some space for a teammate to take the shot. I like dishing out assists more than a like scoring goals.''
Saturday's goal was only the 15th of the season for Nikiforov -- seventh best on the Mallards this season.
"It's funny; I actually struggled (in Game 5),'' said Nikiforov, who has 213 points in 284 career pro games, not counting last season in Russia. "I got three nice passes from Lee, and one of them, I should have definitely scored in the third (period).
"As a team, we dominated with a lot of shots (33, including 19 in the first period). We only scored three goals, but we had a lot of good opportunities. It's a problem if we're not getting chances to bury the puck.''
That's the key to the rest of this series, Nikiforov said.
"We're a good team when we're moving the puck well, but we're not effective when we're not moving our feet,'' said Nikiforov, who has 12 points in 12 career pro playoff games in the American minor leagues.
"If we make good passes, we can definitely steal another game in their rink. I have a good feeling about Tuesday. We want to capitalize on our momentum and finish it off in Game 6.''
All of the pressure is on the hosts, Nikiforov added, with the Rush trying to stave off elimination Tuesday.
"We're still the underdog to win this series,'' he said. "We finished in fifth place in this league. They're supposed to beat us.
"We've got great goaltenders. They've carried us all season. But you can't expect your goalie to stand on his head. We can't afford to have half of this team not working their hardest. We have to have all of the guys pulling the rope in the same direction for us to play well like we did (Saturday). And, when we do that, we can beat any team in this league.''
Triple-A Chicago `borrows' Nagy for a day
Quad City Mallards forward Gergo Nagy enjoyed a whirlwind trip Sunday, even before a late-night departure with the Flock for South Dakota and Tuesday's Game 6 of their best-of-7 playoff series with Rapid City.
For the second time this season, Nagy was promoted by the Triple-A Chicago Wolves, but this time, the Hungarian import was quickly returned to the Mallards after playing for the AHL club in Sunday afternoon's 4-2 win over the Rockford Icehogs.
``It's great for him to get more exposure. Hopefully he's not too tired to play (in Game 6). At least he'll get some rest (today) after we get to Rapid City,'' QC coach Terry Ruskowski joked before loading the bus for a 14-hour trip.
``They called after our game Saturday. They just needed him for Sunday's game. They had some injuries. (NHL parent club) St. Louis had some injuries. So they needed some players.
``Actually, they wanted a defenseman, too, but (Michael) Monfredo couldn't go. Nagy doesn't have a car, either, and they didn't have a scout come through to get him there like last time, so we had to run him up there and run him back.''
The three-hours-up-and-three-hours-back trip to Chicago added to an already-franchise-best 13 Triple-A call-ups for the Mallards this season, not counting a one-game Mallards appearance by Iowa defenseman Corbin Baldwin.