(RIO RANCHO, NM) — Rhinos goalie Alex Palumbo turned away all 27 New Mexico Renegades shot to earn his fourth shutout in eight starts and El Paso\’s special teams were dominant in a 9-0 win that eliminates the Renegades from playoff contention.
Needing to win its final two games, New Mexico (19-25-0-1, 39 points) faltered, unable to break free from the Rhinos\’ chokehold Saturday night. El Paso thwarted the Renegades\’ breakout, often holding back from its usual aggressive forecheck to force New Mexico to beat them through the neutral zone.
Though the Renegades got more shots on Palumbo than in Friday\’s 6-1 Rhinos\’ win, most of them came from distance as New Mexico\’s passing often wasn\’t crisp enough to beat El Paso\’s trap. Palumbo benefited from clear lines of sight and a lack of consistent traffic near his crease.
Thus, it will be the Phoenix Knights (19-23-2-2, 42 points) who will head to the Events Center to open the WSHL\’s Thorne Cup Playoffs next weekend, as El Paso improves to 35-8-0-2, 72 points.
Seven of the Rhinos\’ goals in their Saturday night goal fever came on the power play, a statistical anomaly as El Paso only had five power plays.
Chad Cesarz scored the game\’s first goal with the Rhinos\’ on the power play at 5:33 of the first period. Cesarz followed that with El Paso\’s league-leading 36th short-handed goal of the season. The next-closest team in the Western States Hockey League is Idaho with 13.
After that, seven different Rhinos took a bow.
John Morales shimmied his way through New Mexico\’s defense to make it 3-0 with a power play goal just 1:37 into the second period. Luke Dotto also scored on the man advantage at 11:13, followed by team captain Mike Rivera with the game\’s only even-strength goal — a breakaway that beat goaltender Zach Woodman through the five-hole at 12:57.
All four of El Paso\’s third period goals were scored on the same power play — a five-minute fighting major assessed to Renegades\’ forward Robbie Gervino at 14:08 for punching Cesarz with his gloves still on — thus leading to the anomaly of the Rhinos going 7-for-5 with the man advantage.
Taylor Barger scored at 15:29, Andrew Bradford at 16:17, David Nelson at 17:51 and Trent Edwards at 18:16.
A frustrated New Mexico team did not help its cause, getting two major penalties and resulting game ejections (Gervino and Scott Dunham, who dislocated the shoulder of Rhinos forward Brenden Gust with a deliberate check from behind) and a match penalty (Tyler Dunn, who threatened Cesarz and hurled a racial insult at a game official).
The Rhinos and Renegades will play once more to close out the regular season at 12:15 Sunday afternoon. The game can be heard on 600 ESPN El Paso and via 600ESPNElPaso.com beginning at 11 a.m. MDT.
El Paso will play the Phoenix Knights in the best-of-three first round of the Thorne Cup Playoffs with games on Friday and Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. MDT and Sunday at 4:30 p.m. MDT, if necessary. For playoff tickets and information, call the El Paso Rhinos front office at 915/479.PUCK (7825), or go to www.elpasorhinos.com for more information.
Follow this link for official game stats courtesy of pointstreak.com: http://pointstreak.com/prostats/boxscore.html?gameid=2031546