The El Paso Rhinos have secured a berth in the Conference Championship Series following an 8-1 win over the Oklahoma City Blazers. The Blazers won on Friday in overtime by a score of 4-3. The Rhinos however outclassed the Blazers on Saturday – 8-2 – and Sunday with an emphatic series clinching win to take the Division title.
Defenseman John Bowen returned to the lineup on Sunday after a lengthy suspension and wasted no time in getting back on the scores sheet. Kole Hudson — the Blazers alternate captain and emotional spark plug – delivered a welcome back tap with his stick to the shin of Bowen early in the first period following a save by OKC goaltender Jakub Krejci. All of this happened at almost the same time that OKC’s Lubos Vacek received a hooking penalty.
Almost before the penalty box door had closed on Vacek, Bowen made himself welcome with a blast from the point that put the Rhinos ahead. In this back and forth series, no one would have thought that it would only take one more goal to secure the win but, that is exactly what forward Lukas Znosko’s goal shortly before the end of the first period would prove to be.
Apart from Bowen’s goal in his first playoff game with the Rhinos — and the Bobby Orr Hat Trick following a very lopsided win in a fight with OKC’s Luke Galatiuk — the real story on the day was the Rhinos’ special teams. The Rhinos scored four power play goals and a shorthanded goal during the lopsided victory.
The Blazers helped the Rhinos reach these outstanding statistics with what has become an almost every game occurrence for OKC – racking up penalty minutes by the dozens in the third period of losses.
Only 17 seconds into the second period, forward Marek Langhammer sprinted in on goal while the Rhinos were a man down to score the third El Paso goal of the game. Two minutes later forward Sebastian Borg scored an almost too easy rebound goal to notch the second power play goal of the day.
Eight minutes into the third period, forward Martin Hanl redirected a blast from the point through the goalie’s five-hole for the Rhinos’ third power play goal and seventh overall. As the game deteriorated on the part of the Blazers and the team accumulated over 50 penalty minutes, the Rhinos added yet another power play goal. Forward Kendal Craig flipped the puck in top shelf to finish off the night for the Rhinos – and the season for the Blazers.
The Rhinos will be home next weekend to host the Ogden Mustangs in the Conference Finals. The puck drops on Friday at 7:30pm at the Sierra Providence Events Center.
– Jason Green