Keeghan Howdeshell brought the Rapid City Rush within one goal early in the final period, but the Wheeling Nailers hung tight late and earned a 4-2 win on Saturday night. The loss gives the Nailers the sweep in the first-ever three-game series between both Western Conference teams.
Wheeling struck first in the opening frame, suffered a counterpunch, and carried a lead into the intermission after 20 minutes. Christopher Brown led off the scoring entries for the Nailers as a trailer when Wheeling entered the Rush zone. At 12:48 of the period, Willy Smith found Brown all alone on the right wing side, and saw his sequence end with a top shelf shot from Brown past Rush net-minder Tyler Parks, giving Wheeling a 1-0 lead (Smith and Marc-Olivier Duquette assisted). Moments later, the Rush struck for the first time on the power play in the series and evened up the score. With 3:19 left in the first, Rush Captain Peter Quenneville entered the Wheeling zone on the power play and dropped back to Stephane Legault. Legault advanced the puck for Phillips, who found the Captain on the far wall. Quenneville unleashed a howitzer that zipped past Wheeling goalie Andrew D’Agostini, squaring the game at 1-1 (Legault and Phillips assisted). Wheeling struck back within 1:09 when Yushiroh Hirano found himself all alone at the top of the far faceoff circle in the Rush zone. With 2:10 left in the first, Cam Brown found Hirano from the far corner, with the latter rifling a shot by Parks to give Wheeling a 2-1 lead after the first period (Brown and Saracino assisted).
Wheeling pulled ahead by two in the second period following a full two minutes of a five-on-three power play, thanks to a too many men on the ice minor and a high sticking minor called at the same time. As it expired, Renars Krastenbergs knocked a rebound in on a Justin Almeida shot from the far side of the Rush zone, squeaking by Parks to bring Wheeling to a 3-1 advantage (Almeida and Chris Brown assisted).
Keeghan Howdeshell brought the Rush back within striking distance, but it wasn’t enough for a third game in a row against the Nailers. Tyler Parks left the puck in his trapezoid for Dane Birks, who found Howdeshell with speed coming out of the Rush zone. Howdeshell skated towards the slot area around the Nailers defense, and with 4:43 gone by in the final period, flipped a backhand shot by D’Agostini to cut the Rush deficit to 3-2 (Birks and Parks assisted). Once again pulling Parks for the extra attacker, the Rush tried to muster a game-tying goal, but instead surrendered an empty-net strike from Chris Brown with a half of a second left, sealing the Nailers sweep with a 4-2 final score.
Tyler Parks stopped 35 of 38 shots on net, suffering the loss (8-4-3-0).
The Rush now embark on a brief two-game road trip against the ECHL-leading Allen Americans this upcoming weekend on Friday, December 20th, and Saturday, December 21st. Puck drop for both games at the Allen Event Center is slated for 6:05 p.m. MDT.