Aaron Rasmussen scored the game-winner late in the third period and the El Paso Rhinos survived a gutsy effort from the Phoenix Knights with a 6-5 win Friday night.
Though the Rhinos outshot Phoenix, 47-21, the Knights — competing for their playoff lives — would not die, taking advantage of El Paso\’s defensive breakdowns to keep coming back.
The Rhinos were on their game in the first 20 minutes, as defenseman Jan Dam threw one in from the blue line on the power play just 3:05 into the game.
Colin Bresnahan equalized for the visitors at 6:50, but El Paso\’s Taylor Barger, Tyler Brady and Gunnar Bjorklund scored to make it 4-1, Rhinos, at the first intermission.
Bjorklund\’s goal was El Paso\’s league-leading 35th shorthanded goal of the season, best in the Western States Hockey League by 22.
But Knights\’ team captain Nick Pappas scored just 1:22 into the second frame, followed by Michael Cummings at 6:05 — both on the power play — to get Phoenix within a goal, 4-3.
Tyler Basham scored at 13:24 to give the hosts a little breathing room going into the second intermission, but Pappas scored his second on a breakaway at 5:40 to make it 5-4.
Aaron Rasmussen gave the Rhinos another two-goal lead at 15:58, but Phoenix\’s Ryan Francis scored just 1:23 later to make it 6-5.
El Paso\’s solid back-check kept the Knights from pulling goalie Alex Taylor for an extra skater until only seconds remained in the game and the Rhinos hung on for the win.
El Paso is 32-7-0-2 and the Rhinos\’ 46 points has sewn up the Mountain Conference regular season championship.
Phoenix drops to 18-22-2-2 but hangs on to the fourth and final playoff spot in the Mountain Conference with 40 points after fifth place New Mexico (39 points) lost at Boulder Friday.
El Paso and the Knights play twice more, Saturday at 7:30 p.m. MST and Sunday afternoon at 4:30 p.m.
After Saturday\’s game, fans can bid on the hair of their favorite Rhinos\’ coaches and players as the team will have their heads shaved to benefit the St. Baldrick\’s Foundation for children\’s cancer research. All proceeds from the bidding will be donated to St. Baldrick\’s.
For tickets and information, contact the El Paso Rhinos\’ front office at 915/479.PUCK, or go to www.elpasorhinos.com.
Click here for a boxscore of Friday\’s game, courtesy of PointStreak: http://pointstreak.com/prostats/boxscore.html?gameid=2031461