Faced by a Colorado Outlaws team that understood the concept of hard-hitting, hard-skating playoff hockey, the El Paso Rhinos took a little while to engage, but engage they did.
Billy Krueger scored two self-described “garbage goals” to open up a 2-0 lead, and the Rhinos survived a tough challenge from the physical Outlaws, 3-1, taking Game One of the best-of-three Mid-West Division semifinals.
If necessary, Game Three between El Paso and Colorado will be Sunday at 5:30 p.m. MST.
Game Two tickets are on sale at the El Paso County Coliseum box office. For more information, call the Rhinos at 915.479.PUCK (7825). The game can be viewed at www.elpasorhinos.com with a subscription and live game tracking is available at www.pointstreak.com. Just key “WSHL” into the hockey searchbar and follow the links
Flying higher and higher as the season progressed, El Paso needed to be nudged back into the form that saw them skate away with a Mid-West Division championship last postseason.
They got that in the form of a Colorado team that broke up their passes, clogged their defensive zone and just did not allow the Rhinos to have their way as they had in game’s past.
Outlaws’ goaltender David Herman did his part as well, stopping what did get through as El Paso kept trying to take off and fly high.
It was appropriate that Krueger was the one to snap the Rhinos out of their funk.
A forward who makes his living under the skin of the opposition and on the porch step of goalies, Krueger exemplifies the lunch pail approach to hockey.
The lunch pail kid found himself on the right end of a bounce off the end boards midway through the second period. Linemate Marcus Wilhite fired wide to the right of Herman, off the boards and straight to Krueger, who shoveled the puck home at 8:26 for the all-important first goal on a two-man advantage power play.
He then notched the game-winner almost whiffing on Nick Gorup’s crossing pass.
Far on the left wing, Gorup neatly sailed his pass through the Colorado slot and out to Krueger, who nearly mistimed his one-timer. The off-speed offering seemed to surprise Herman, who may have been looking for a shot with more zip, and he overplayed it, allowing the puck to skid inside the far post at 16:25 of the second.
After Nick Ayers got one back for the Outlaws just 28 seconds from the end of the period, Jeffrey Schmudlach gave the Rhinos some breathing room with his tally in the third.
It was another hard-work goal, as Parker Harrison’s shot was deflected by Herman straight to Schmudlach who one-timed the rebound for the goal at 3:37.
Both teams do it again Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. MST in theSierra-ProvidenceEventsCenter , a game that concerns head coach Cory Herman as Colorado faces elimination.
Their backs are against the wall and we know they’ll be skating even harder in Game Two,” said Herman. “They’re a capable bunch, and if Herman gets hot again, it will be tough.
“It’s playoff hockey.”
The winner of this series between the top-seeded Rhinos and the fourth-seeded Outlaws will face the winner of the series between the second-seeded Tulsa Rampage and third-seeded San Antonio Diablos, being played in Tulsa . The Rampage soundly defeated the Diablos, 7-0, to take Game One Friday night.