The Oklahoma City Blazers were game. They forechecked. They took advantage of what the El Paso Rhinos offered. They scored a power play goal in the second period to get within a goal and had momentum.
But goalie Filip Krasanovsky made 25 saves on 26 shots, forward Chaseton Sare scored twice in the third period and the Rhinos won anyway, 4-1.
El Paso adds to an unblemished record with its 26th win and remains the only undefeated team in the Western States Hockey League.
The Blazers fall to 21-2-0 and are still looking for answers against their Mid-West Division rivals.
They came close, as a series everyone knew would be physical got increasingly chippy. El Paso kept getting roped into the smack talk and kept giving Oklahoma City chances on the power play.
Give one of the best power plays in the league that many opportunities and something will give. It did at 6:42 of the second frame, as defenseman Connor Dunn blasted a shot from right circle past Krasanovsky, who was screened off by two of his teammates.
But that only halved a Rhinos’ lead earned in the first frame with goals from Ian McCollum and Donald Alchin, Jr.
Once the hosts decided to stay out of the penalty box, El Paso cranked up its formidable forecheck and starved the visitors of chances. The Rhinos only allowed six shots on net in the third frame.
On the other end of the ice, El Paso’s leading scorer, Sare, picked up the slack and put the game away.
The Saskatchewan native buried his chance on a two-on-one, one-timing the feed from linemate Austin Simpson past OKC’s Bobby Cloutier at 8:56.
Sare’s 25th goal of the season was the cherry on top for Rhinos’ fans. Teammate Phil Pugliese crossed at the last second – a tight squeeze of a pass that would hamstring most players crashing the net.
But Sare expertly sorted things out, feathering the puck between his own legs with the edge of his blade, scooting it past Cloutier for the game’s last goal at 12:34.
The rest was up to the Rhinos defense and Krasanovsky, who firmly shut the door on Oklahoma City’s quick and quick-thinking forwards.
The lanky Czech goaltender earned Third Star of the Game while Sare took First Star. His two goals earned him his team-leading 24th and 25th goals of the season.
The teams will finish their first regular season series Sunday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. MST. For tickets and information, contact the Rhinos’ front office at 915.479.PUCK (7825) or go to www.elpasorhinos.com.
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