The victory gives the Rhinos their second straight top seed in the Mid-West Division playoffs, meaning El Paso gets to stay home for however long their divisional playoff run lasts.
The Western States Hockey League alternates the site of the league finals between the Mid-West and Western Divisions. The Rhinos hosted the finals as Mid-West champs last season, losing two straight to Phoenix in the best-of-three series. This season, the Western champs will play host.
El Paso improves to 39-1-2, pacing the Mid-West Division with 80 points to Tulsa ’s 61. With just nine games remaining for both the Rhinos and Rampage, the 18 possible points for Tulsa wouldn’t be enough to unseat El Paso from the top spot.
The Rampage drop to 29-10-3, but still lead third place San Antonio by two points as both of those teams battle for home-ice advantage in the first round of the divisional playoffs at the end of the month.
As it has in the three games these two teams played, special teams loomed large in deciding the outcome of Sunday’s tilt. The Rhinos went 2-for-4 on the power play, and Krueger, the hard-working, hard-nosed forward fromPewaukee, WI , scored both of them. Conversely, the El Paso penalty kill kept Tulsa from scoring in nine of its 10 advantages.
Rhinos forward Parker Harrison put home his second straight goal to open the scoring at 15:50 of the first period.Harrison was the hero Saturday night with the overtime game-winner in a 7-6 thriller.
Marcus Wilhite scored less than three minutes later, at 18:11, giving the visitors a 2-0 lead at the first intermission.
Tulsa fought back to tie the game with the first two goals of the second period, from Evan Mosey at 3:11 and Chuck Hofbauer at 4:28.
But Krueger, who makes his power play home on the opposing goalie’s porch step, proved to be too physical for the Rampage defense to handle, scoring on the power play at 6:35 of the second, even strength at 14:35, then again with the man advantage at 4:27 of the third for the natural hat trick.
Austin Balko wrapped up the scoring for El Paso at 6:36 of the third.
After being pulled from Friday night’s loss to Tulsa , Arthur Hollinger got his second straight win in goal for the Rhinos, this time stopping 37 of 39 Rampage shots. The hosts outshot El Paso , 39-27, in the game. It was the 22nd win of the season for the HomerGlen, IL , native.
The Rhinos are on the road next weekend in Lafayette, LA, to finish their season series with the Cajun Catahoulas before returning home to face Colorado and San Antonio to end the regular season.