Working hard for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Mountain Conference, the Phoenix Knights used a combination of timely offense and solid team defense to upend the El Paso Rhinos, 6-4, Saturday night.
Evan Smith scored the opening and closing goals for the Knights to earn First Star of the Game honors as Phoenix improves to 19-22-2-2. The Knights\’ 42 points gives them a three-point edge over the New Mexico Renegades for the fourth playoff spot and a trip back to El Paso for the first round of the WSHL\’s Thorne Cup Playoffs.
The Rhinos (32-8-0-2, 66 points) have sewn up home ice advantage throughout the first two rounds of the playoffs. Conference playoff winners will advance to the four-team Thorne Cup Finals, held this season in McCall, Idaho, home of the defending league champion Idaho Junior Steelheads.
Andrew Bradford opened the scoring for El Paso just 3:52 into the game, but Phoenix answered with goals from Smith and Corey Evelyn to take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.
Aaron Rasmussen equalized for the hosts in the second period, but Colin Bresnahan and Michael Cummings gave the Knights a 4-2 lead before Austin Hoff scored late in the frame for the Rhinos.
But Phoenix\’s Ryan Francis scored 2:27 into the third period to make it 5-3. Though Chris Wilhite scored exactly 2:30 later to make it 5-4, Smith wrong-footed El Paso goalie Kiefer Giroux, bleeding his shot to Giroux\’s right as Giroux made a move to his left at 16:57.
The loss was only the Rhinos\’ second in regulation this season. The two teams will face off at 4:30 p.m. MST for the rubber match of the three game series after El Paso\’s 6-5 win Friday night.
For ticket and information, contact the Rhinos\’ front office at 915/479.PUCK (7825), or go to www.elpasorhinos.com.
Click the link for a complete boxscore of Saturday night\’s game, courtesy of PointStreak: http://pointstreak.com/prostats/boxscore.html?gameid=2031462