(EL PASO, TX) — Marek Langhammer scored twice and the El Paso Rhinos wrapped up the regular season on a high note, defeating the Oklahoma City Blazers, 5-1, and winning the series against the Blazers two games to one.
After stinging 5-3 defeat at the hands of the OKC, El Paso found an extra gear in front of another sellout crowd of 1,837 at the Events Center.
However, it took over a period of hockey before either team was able to break through. Exactly three minutes into the second frame, Rhinos’ winger Jiri Pestuka ended the stalemate, wristing a shot from the left circle that beat Oklahoma City’s starting goaltender, Jakub Krejci, just inside the far post to give the hosts a 1-0 lead.
It was Pestuka’s team-leading 41st goal, and the Czech Republic native finishes the season seventh among top scorers in the Western States Hockey League with 41 goals and 35 assists for 76 points.
Jordan Cullum notched the game-winner at of the second. Cullum, a trade-deadline pickup from the Phoenix Knights, pounced on a rebound from Patrick Gleason’s shot on a delayed penalty.
Langhammer made it 3-0 on an El Paso power play at of the second, diving onto the ice to catch a short rebound to Krejci’s left and tucking it past the goalie.
Cullum’s former Phoenix Knights teammate, Mitch Cobby, scored the Rhinos’ second power play goal at of the third, followed by Langhammer, who roofed a shot from just inside the blue line over backup goalie Braden Lajoie at .
As hard as they worked, the visitors were not able to break through, and Rhinos’ netminder, Alek Lazarski, held OKC at bay most of the game. El Paso only outshot the Blazers by five, 31-26, so the offense was there; but it took Drake Johnson’s seeing-eye blast from the blue line to beat Lazarski through a screen with just to play.
El Paso (41-5-0-0, 82 points) finishes with the second-best record in the WSHL this season. The Idaho Junior Steelheads (42-2-1-1, 86 points) finished atop the league and will have home-ice advantage throughout the Thorne Cup Playoffs.
Oklahoma City (34-12-0-0, 68 points) finishes behind the Rhinos in the Midwest Division, but both teams will have a first-round bye as the playoffs start up next week. Both teams then play host to the two remaining teams in a best-of-three second round series, .
Though they lost each of the three series they played against El Paso, the Blazers won a game in each series, becoming the only team to do so this season against the defending national champions.
For playoff tickets and information, contact the Rhinos front office at 915/479.PUCK (7825), or go to the team’s website atwww.elpasorhinos.com.