The Rhinos got their 88th points of the season to keep pace with the Western Division’s Phoenix Polar Bears for best record in the Western States Hockey League.
At 43-1-2, theEl Paso has sewn up the top seed – and home-ice advantage – for the Mid-West Division playoffs, which begin in two weeks. The Rhinos will most likely face this sameColorado team in the divisional semifinals.
Four ofEl Paso ’s six goals came on special teams, as the Rhinos went 2-for-6 on the power play and scored two goals short-handed.El Paso leads the WSHL with 22 short-handed goals.
Goaltender Anthony Natali gets the win, his 18th of the season, and stays second in the league with a miniscule 1.88 goals-against average.
After a Colorado penalty in the opening minute of the game, Balko got the Rhinos’ first goal at 1:12 on the man advantage.
Former Outlaw Parker Harrison scored his 20th goal of the season at 2:34 of the second period, followed by a beautiful top-shelf strike by Zach Kohn – the first short-handed goal exactly 8:00 into the second frame.
Jeffery Schmudlach made it 4-0 El Paso at 5:12 of the third period beforeColorado ’s Phil Nielson tipped a shot past Natali to ruin the shutout at 9:58.
Rhinos forward Bill Krueger got one back for the home team just over a minute and a half later on the power play.
The Outlaws’ giant d-man, Michael Washington, slid one by Natali on a screened shot at 17:08 to make it 5-2. But Balko finished the scoring a mere 36 seconds later with El Paso’s second short-handed strike, neatly five-holing Colorado netminder Alex Migdalski.
The two teams play again Saturday at 7:30 p.m. MST and Sunday afternoon at 5:30 p.m. MST. Both games can be seen live with a subscription at www.elpasorhinos.com.
The games can also be followed online with live game tracking provided at www.pointstreak.com. Just key “WSHL” into the hockey searchbar and follow the links.