Alex Sakellaropoulos stopped all but two of 40 shots on goal to help power the Rapid City Rush to a 5-2 win over the Wichita Thunder on Sunday afternoon. The win gives the Rush the win in the series, claiming four points out of six in the “three-in-three” set against their division rival.
For a third game in this series, and a fifth time in their last seven, the Rush provided the first goal of the game and left with the lead after the opening 20 minutes. Stephane Legault struck first for the Rush with a shot behind the goal line, banking his attempt off of Wichita goalie Mitch Gillam and in, putting the Rush up 1-0 just 1:59 into the game (Matt Ustaski and Myles McGurty assisted). In the closing moments of the first, Brennan Saulnier doubled the Rush lead with his fourth goal in the last two games on the back-end of a double-minor power play, awarded due to a hook and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty assessed to Jason Salvaggio. With 1:59 remaining in the first, Saulnier deflected a Jalen Smereck shot past Gillam in the slot area to give the Rush a 2-0 lead after one period (Smereck and Ryker Killins assisted).
Stefan Fournier countered for the Thunder in the early moments of the second period on Wichita’s power play. With just 89 seconds played in the period, Fournier deflected a Jason Salvaggio shot past Rush net-minder Alex Sakellaropoulos, cutting the Rush lead to 2-1 (Salvaggio and Spencer Dorowicz assisted). In the early moments of the second period, the Rush had to kill off 95 seconds of a five-on-three power play for Wichita, but Sakellaropoulos and the penalty-kill stood tall to maintain the Rush lead.
Dane Birks helped the Rush begin to pull away with his first goal since October 19th at Tulsa. Chris Leibinger came off the blue line to fire a shot, but his stick broke in half. Fortuitously, the puck rolled to Birks, who rifled a wrist shot by Gillam to put the Rush on top 3-1 at 4:36 of the third (Leibinger and Beau McCue assisted). In the final minutes of the game, Matt Ustaski, in just his third game with the Rush, went on a highlight-reel run towards the net, tucking the puck between the legs in an attempt to slip it by Gillam. Gillam went all out and made the save, but Tanner Karty pocketed the loose change and gave the Rush a 4-1 lead with 2:57 remaining in the game (Ustaski and Ryker Killins assisted). Moments later, Wichita went back to the power play, and it was Ostap Safin that fired a shot from the far wall of the Rush zone that squeaked by Sakellaropoulos, bringing Wichita within a pair at 4-2 with 1:51 left in the game (Beau Starrett and Patrik Parkkonen assisted). Exactly 35 seconds later with 76 to go, Keeghan Howdeshell officially put the game out of reach with an empty net goal to seal a 5-2 Rush win.
Alex Sakellaropoulos stopped all but two of 40 shots, earning his fourth win with the Rush (4-6-0-0 with the Rush, 6-10-0-0 total).
The Rush now head to Boise, Idaho to square off against the Mountain Division rival Idaho Steelheads. Puck drop for both games this weekend on Friday, January 31st, and Saturday, February 1st, is slated for 7:10 p.m. MDT.
Tickets for all remaining Rush games are on sale now! Visit www.rapidcityrush.com to purchase yours today!