MOLINE -- Another fast start. Another early shorthanded score.|
For the second straight night Saturday, the Quad City Mallards followed that formula for a big victory against visiting Arizona.
In a pre-postseason, two-game weekend series with playoff implications, the Flock used early momentum again to turn back the SunDogs, 3-0 at Moline's iWireless Center.
A crowd of 5,513 showed up for game-worn jersey auction night that benefited Genesis Outpatient Rehabilitation. And that throng had plenty to celebrate.
The Mallards scored just 68 seconds into the contest, added the shortie in the first five minutes, and Ty Rimmer turned away 32 shots to register his third career shutout, and the fifth overall by the Flock this season.
With the victory, the Mallards (28-18-8, 64 points) vaulted into a share of fifth place in a tightly-packed CHL with 12 games remaining.
More importantly, the Flock now own a six-point standings pad on Arizona (26-26-6, 58 points), which owns the eighth and final playoff spot in the Double-A circuit.
The Flock's magic number to clinch a playoff berth also fell to 10 points, with the Mallards benefiting from any QC wins or losses by ninth-place Wichita in the season's final three weeks.
"This was like a four-point game for us,'' said Mallards assistant captain Mike Stinziani.
"If we lost this game, we'd be back to two points up on them,'' agreed QC coach Terry Ruskowski. "Instead, we're six points ahead, so they have to win three more games than us just to tie us. I know they go finish at home now, so this was huge.''
Now in a make-it, take-it scenario with co-starter Thomas Heemskerk to decide QC's starting goaltender the next game, Rimmer appeared unwilling to let go of the net.
Heemskerk, four times already this season a Triple-A call-up, has dropped six straight decisions after starting 11-1-4 for the Mallards.
Rimmer, a Triple-A tested rookie himself, has won four straight now, including back-to-back nights, when Ruskowski issued the friendly challenge to his goaltenders.
"Whoever wins keeps on playing,'' Ruskowski said. "If he plays the next 5-6 games, that wouldn't hurt me a whole lot.''
"It's getting down to crunch time and we need wins,'' added Rimmer. "That's my job. So if Terry wants to keep playing me, that's fine by me.''
Especially when the Mallards make Rimmer's job so easy.
Gergo Nagy got the Flock off to a flying start, scoring off a pretty pass from Matt Boyd just a minute and eight seconds into the game.
Stinziani then added the short-handed score unassisted at the 4:35 mark. The goal was Stinziani's first since Feb. 15.
"As soon as I beat the guy, I was like, `Oh, I'm alone here,''' Stinziani said. "I looked up and went to my go-to move and it worked out. It feels good, especially when you're struggling. It felt really good to score. Hopefully I can keep the pace going now into the playoffs.''
Ruskowski said the shortie "was a killer,'' for an Arizona club already skating down a man because of recent injuries and illnesses.
However, when new addition Jordan Mayer scored his first Mallards goal, midway through the second period, "they got demoralized after that,'' the coach added.
"This was something I didn't think we could do against a really good hockey team,'' Ruskowski said of a weekend sweep after dropping three one-goal decisions to the SunDogs earlier this season.
"I know they were sick and injured, but they still played hard and we did, too. We started moving our feet again the last two games, making good passes, making good decisions. We're starting to play physical, which is good, and we're starting to get participation from every line, which is what we need.''
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