Fueled by a three-goal second period and strong defensive play down the stretch, the San Antonio Rampage defeated the visiting Peoria Rivermen in a crucial West Division matchup on Sunday afternoon at the AT&T Center.
San Antonio (32-28-3-6) faced off against a Peoria team that entered Sunday trailing the Rampage by one point in the American Hockey League’s West Division standings and a 6-2-1-1 record in their previous 10 games.
In the last two contests between the two clubs in the Alamo City this season, the Rivermen tallied five power-play goals and thus the Rampage knew that special teams would play an important role on Sunday.
Peoria opened the scoring at the 8:59 mark of the first on a goal by left wing Chris Porter. Skating into the left corner of the Rampage zone, Rivermen blueliner Justin Fletcher sent a pass through the crease to Nate Guenin on the left point, where the defenseman fired a weak slap shot from the top of the right faceoff circle that deflected off the stick of Rampage netminder Josh Tordjman to Porter in the slot, before the winger beat Tordjman low inside the left post to give Peoria an early 1-0 lead.
Near the midway point of the second stanza, the Rampage tied the contest at 1-1 with a shorthanded tally by defenseman Sean Sullivan. Carrying the puck into the right side of the Peoria zone to kill time during a Peoria power play, San Antonio center Kyle Turris skated to the right faceoff dot and sent a shot toward the net. Racing down into the slot, a pinching Sullivan screened Peoria goaltender Joe Fallon and redirected the puck into the Rivermen net for his 11th goal of the season at the 7:36 mark of the second period.
San Antonio then took a 2-1 lead, at 15:25 of the middle frame, on rookie center MacGregor Sharp’s seventh goal of the season. Applying a tenacious forecheck behind the Peoria net, right wing Mikkel Boedker stole a puck from a Rivermen defenseman, curled around the right post and sent a pass to Sharp in the slot, where the centerman beat Fallon low to the stick side.
With 1:08 remaining in the second, Sharp increased the Rampage lead to 3-1 with his second goal of the game. Gaining control of the puck near the right point, San Antonio center Joel Perrault spun and fired a wrist shot toward the Peoria goal that bounced off Fallon and into the slot, where Sharp outmuscled a Peoria defenseman and deposited the rebound low inside the right post.
Less than five minutes into the third, San Antonio defenseman Shaun Heshka added to the Rampage lead with his fourth power-play goal of the season at the 4:40 mark. Working on the power play, Tordjman started a Rampage breakout by forwarding a pass to Heshka near the Rampage blueline. Heshka then carried the puck through the right side of the neutral zone and sent a pass to Sharp on the left boards outside of the Rivermen zone. Sharp then skated down to the left half wall and dropped a pass for Heshka at the top of the left faceoff circle and beat Fallon high to the glove side on a slap shot.
Four of Heshka’s six goals in 2009-10 have been scored on the power play.
A minute and 43 seconds later, Peoria center Julian Talbot beat a San Antonio defenseman in a race for a loose puck at the bottom of the left faceoff circle and connected with Rivermen left wing Nicholas Drazenovic on a one-timer at the bottom of the right faceoff circle to close the Rampage lead to 4-2.
With 31.3 seconds remaining in the game and Fallon on the Peoria bench in favor of an extra attacker, San Antonio right wing David Spina found the empty Rivermen net to seal a 5-2 Rampage victory.
The win represented San Antonio’s fourth straight win on home ice, tying a season high.
Tordjman made 28 saves on 30 Peoria shots for his 16th victory of the season, while Fallon turned away 35 of 39 San Antonio shots in the loss.
The Rampage were 1-for-5 on the power play and 4-for-4 on the penalty kill on the afternoon.
San Antonio and Peoria will reconvene on Wednesday for a 7 p.m. St. Patrick’s Day matchup at the AT&T Center, in which fans can purchase green beer while supplies last.