With the score tied, 3-3, in the third period, El Paso’s Trevor Erickson scored the game-winning goal and Austin Balko notched a short-handed goal to put the game away, as the Rhinos beat the San Antonio Diablos, 6-3, at the Sierra Providence Events Center Saturday night.
After being shut out, 5-0, in the opening game of the series Friday night, San Antonio rallied twice to tie the game.
El Paso defenseman Mike Bottcher opened the scoring on a fluke goal. Dumping the puck into the Diablos’ zone, goaltender Anthony Maroney mishandled the puck and the Rhinos had a 1-0 lead just 1:28 into the second period.
On a 5-on-3 power play, El Paso scored on a crisp series of passes started by Andrew Ketterer. From the right circle Ketterer found Nick Gorup on the left wing who then zipped his pass to the right of the goal for a waiting Bill Krueger, who popped it by Maroney at 6:54 of the second.
But two distractions behind the Rhinos defensive zone allowed the Diablos to climb back into the game and the visitors made the most of it. With El Paso’s Marshall Webber woozy after slamming into the boards on a missed check in the neutral zone, San Antonio’s superior numbers sprung Kevin Eastwood for the goal at 11:32.
Then, as Rhinos forward Casey Lutz and the Diablos’ Cameron Hope were dropping the gloves to fight in San Antonio’s zone, Wes Landsem broke away on the other end of the ice and laced a wrister top shelf past El Paso goalie Arthur Hollinger for the tying goal at 12:23 of the second.
A power play tip-in by the Rhinos Eric LaBounty at 17:44 gave the hosts the lead going into the third period, but again the Diablos fought back to tie as Joseph Douglas beat Hollinger just 1:14 into the final frame.
But at 10:52, Balko intercepted a San Antonio clearance on the forecheck and passed to Erickson, who gathered his own rebound and beat Maroney for the game-winner.
Balko put the exclamation point on the night, stealing another clearance attempt on a Diablos’ power play, weaving his way past two defenders and popping the shot past Maroney for the back-breaker at 15:28.
Nick Gorup added an empty-net goal to wrap the scoring as El Paso improved to 33-2-1, opening up a 19-point lead over second place San Antonio in the WSHL’s Mid-West Division, 67 points to 48.
The two teams play once more Sunday afternoon at 5:30 p.m. MST. For tickets and information visit the Rhinos website (www.elpasorhinos.com) or call 915.479.PUCK (7825).