El Paso beat Colorado, 5-0, Sunday afternoon, running its record to 45-1-2 and 92 points to pace the Mid-West Division going into the final week of the regular season against San Antonio .
Zach Kohn drew first blood for the Rhinos on the power play, one-timing a seeing-eye pass from Austin Balko at 9:18 of the first period to beat Outlaws’ goaltender David Herman.
But Colorado outshot its hosts, 10-9, in that frame, and it took a big offensive effort from one of El Paso ’s big men in the second period to put the home team on the winning track.
Alec “Big Poppa” Sherman scored both second period goals for the Rhinos, rifling in an unassisted strike from above the right circle at 11:24, then guiding in a power play shot from Marcus Wilhite’s pass barely more than three minutes later, at 14:37, putting the home team up, 3-0, by the second intermission.
Jeffery Schmudlach added some insurance at 3:28 of the third, followed by El Paso ’s fourth short-handed goal of the weekend and its Western States Hockey League-leading 24th of the season, scored by former Outlaw Parker Harrison at 18:06.
The Outlaws (23-22-3, 49 points) are already assured of finishing fourth in the Mid-West and will return for a best-of-three series beginning Feb. 29 inEl Paso .
The second place Tulsa Rampage will host the Rhinos’ opponents next weekend, the San Antonio Diablos, in the other Mid-West semifinal.
El Paso put up another three special teams goals, going 2-for-9 on the power play and notching the short-hander. The Rhinos have the top power play in the WSHL, successfully converting close to 29-percent of their chances.
Hollinger moved up to fourth among the league’s best goalies, dropping his goals-against average to 2.21. Fellow El Paso netminder Anthony Natali is second in the league with a 1.88 GAA.
The Rhinos begin a three-game series against the Diablos at theSierra-ProvidenceEventsCenter next Friday. Game times Friday and Saturday are at 7:30 p.m. MST and Sunday’s game will start at 5:30 p.m. MST.