Nick Gualano scored the winning goal in shootout and the El Paso Rhinos capped a wild come-from-behind ride with an improbable 6-5 win Friday night against the Tulsa Rampage.
Tulsa had chased Rhinos’ starting goaltender Andrew Duff after Clayton Hodges scored on a 5-on-3 Rampage power play to make it 5-0, Tulsa, at
7:47 of the second period.
To that point, El Paso had been thoroughly out-worked after the long drive to Tulsa, OK. But sometimes changing goalies not only gives beleaguered netminders a rest, it wakes a team up. Case in point: El Paso’s performance after goalie Max Dizgun took Duff’s place.
Dizgun and the Rhinos defense shut the Rampage down the rest of the way as the visitors rattled off five unanswered goals, including Austin Balko’s game-tying score with just :04 left in the third period.
The rally started under two and a half minutes after Dizgun replaced Duff, as blue-collar forward Frankie Posillico beat Tulsa goalie Michael Maczysnki at 10:05 of the second.
It took close to a whole period after the team’s first strike for El Paso to notch its second, but Ben Henne broke the tension with his goal at 7:33 of the third period, followed by John Redmond exactly 1:07 later, followed by Balko on the power play exactly 1:46 after Redmond.
The Rampage had to be upset, having their 5-4 lead stick for the next 9:30 of the game – seconds away from joining Boulder as the only Mid-West Division teams to have beaten El Paso this season – only to see the Rhinos strike again.
El Paso’s team captain, Balko answered at the most critical of times, punching home the bomb-defusing goal with just four seconds to spare.
Dizgun, the Montreal native, was solid, as he continued to shut down the Tulsa offense in the five minute overtime and giving Gualano, the Rhinos’ best sniper, the opportunity to win the full two points for the visitors.
El Paso improves to 36-5-0 and has a commanding lead over the rest of the Mid-West with 72 points – good for a 24-point lead over idle Boulder.
Having made a number of adjustments to the roster, the Rampage will be trying to beat the three-time defending division champs again Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. Fans can hear the action via FastHockey.com.