Originally Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013, 11:17 pm
Last Updated: Feb. 12, 2013, 11:39 pm
Mallards give ground in playoff race
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By Steve Tappa, email@example.com
Shayne Toporowski was honored Tuesday night before playing in his 1,000th career game as a pro.
Instead of offering their 18th-year veteran something to fondly the recall the feat, the Quad City Mallards delivered a rather forgettable evening at the i wireless Center.
"These are such big games for us, where we can gain ground, but instead, we took another step back," Toporowski said after the Flock fell 4-1 to arch-rival Bloomington.
Losing the rubbermatch to a three-games-in-five-days stretch with the Blaze also saw the Mallards (20-21-5, 45 points) tumble five points behind their neighbors for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Central Hockey League.
QC twice hosts Rapid City (23-20-5, 51 points) -- Friday and next Tuesday -- in between a Saturday visit by the Double-A circuit's other sixth-place squad, Arizona (23-21-5, 51 points).
After that? The Mallards have 17 games remaining, with the first five on the road leading into March and six more meetings with Bloomington (24-21-2, 50 points).
"We have to buy into the system and realize this is playoff hockey now," said Toporowski, whose 16 pro stops include a cup of NHL coffee. "We're fighting for our lives right now, so every mistake is going to be huge. Attention to detail is so big right now.
"As an experienced guy, I tried addressing that after the game, that these games are too big to allow odd-man rushes and silly penalties. Take a penalty when there's a goal-scoring chance against you, sure, but otherwise we can't be giving away goals or power plays right now."
Instead, the Mallards committed those very sins Tuesday to allow a 1-1 first-period tie to become a 4-1 deficit in the second period.
QC rookie Mike Hellyer scored his 16th goal of the season 3 minutes, 52 seconds into the opening frame to answer the ice-breaker a minute earlier by the CHL's scoring leaders.
Bloomington answered twice more before the first period was over, then added a comeback-crushing 5-on-3 power-play late in the second period.
First, QC's Jason Kostadine was whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct, and on the same stoppage, linemate Anthony Perdicaro was ejected for abuse of the officials after also drawing a roughing penalty.
"(Perdicaro) got his eye gouged," QC coach Terry Ruskowski said. "In the corners, I told him, I can't see anything, but he came up with scratches all around his eyes. But apparently, nobody saw it."
Perdicaro also got into a verbal altercation with the officials after the period, in the hallway leading to the dressing rooms. Ruskowski is not sure if the fireworks will cost the forward a suspension.
"But if that's the case," Ruskowski said, "then the referee and the linesmen need to be accountable, too, because that's their job to go there and find out what's going on."
Ruskowski, though, was more concerned about his team's performance after a second straight one-goal effort against Bloomington.
Just last Friday, the Mallards exploded for a season-best 9-6 win over the Blaze.
"We're just not working hard on defense and our passing was horrible," Ruskowski said. "Every time we shot, we either shot at them or they blocked it. We probably missed 20 shots on goal and had 15 blocked. Those are chances to score.
"And the other end? We're practicing defensive coverage (today) for an hour-and-a-half. We're supposed to have a high guy all of the time to help our defense. In the first period, we gave them nothing but 3-on-2 chances, and they took them to the bank.
"We also take those stupid, unnecessary penalties. Are you kidding me? From veteran players? We're putting ourselves farther behind the eight-ball."