Terry Ruskowski's stomach was in his throat Wednesday night.|
Having seen his squad blow a 3-1 third-period lead, with Missouri forcing overtime with six-tenths of a second showing, the Quad City Mallards coach had good reason at Moline's i wireless Center.
"Heading into the shootout, I was thinking to myself, `When (QC rookie goalie Neil Conway) was in Rapid City earlier this year, we beat him in a shootout,''' Ruskowski said. "And if we can do that, how great of a shootout goalie is he? With their scorers, I was thinking, `Oh crap, here we go.'''
Instead, Conway proved brilliant in net, turning away seven of eight penalty shooters as the Mallards pulled out a 4-3 shootout victory with light-scoring defenseman Bobby Preece coming up with the game-winner in sudden death.
Preece went glove-side high to beat Mike Clemente for just his 12th goal in three seasons with the Mallards.
"I don't know if it's his lucky day or mine,'' Ruskowski joked. "It's funny, just before him, (fellow defenseman Mitch) McColm said, `Glove-side high, I've got him. Trust me.' And he had it, but it hit the goal post. So after Conway makes the next save, Preece looks at me and said, `I got it. I'm going to score.'''
That set up a glove save by Conway to cap the thrilling victory. Not counting the shootout, the rookie turned away 30 of 33 shots in regulation and overtime.
With the win, QC (12-12-3, 27 points) moved past idle Arizona for the eighth and final playoff spot nearing the Central Hockey League's midway point.
The Flock also crawled within four points -- or two wins away -- from a three-way tie for fourth that includes Missouri (14-11-3, 31 points).
"The important part is we got the win,'' Ruskowski said, "but the way we got it was kind of crazy.''
Heading into the final minute, the Mallards led 3-2, so Missouri pulled Clemente for the extra attacker.
Trouble was, QC turned away the offensive, and actually got four good looks at the empty net, with Missouri defensemen desperately diving on the ice to prevent the insurance scores.
That came back to haunt the Mallards when Brandon Smith banged home the game-tying goal in the final second.
"I understand. It's hard not to attack an empty net,'' Ruskowski said. "But you have to be smart, and realize the situation and know it's a team game, not an individual game.
"All we had to do was take care of the puck; we didn't have to score any more goals. They'll learn from it. I'm sure this won't happen again.''
Other than the late slip-up, Ruskowski exited the Mallards final home game of 2012 pretty pleased.
After a 15-minute delay to replace a rink-side plate of glass, damaged during warm-ups, the Flock was the more aggressive squad.
Rookies Mike Stinziani (second-period power-play goal) and Mike Hellyer (third-period score for a 3-1 lead) had goals.
Mickey Lang also set up two scores, including Matt Boyd's third-period tap-in, by attacking Missouri's net.
"No question, if we'd lost this one, it'd been a huge downer,'' Ruskowski said. "We played really well. We were moving the puck around, passing well and using our speed. We had seven or eight good scoring chances; (Clemente) just made some great saves.''
Now, the Mallards close the 2012 portion of their schedule with road games Friday (at Tulsa), Saturday (at Wichita) and Monday (at Allen) having won five of their last six.
"It's a big stretch for us,'' Ruskowski said, facing the league leaders in the last two games. "But they all are right now. Every game we play is big. It's crazy right now. You put two wins together, and you're in fourth. You lose two, you're in eighth.''
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