Desperation became the Billings Bulls Wednesday night.
They are now faced with the reality that — with one more loss in their NorPac Hockey League playoff series with Helena — their season will be over.
Helena, behind a pair of power-play goals by defenseman Gene Constantine and a dominating third period, sent the Bulls to the brink of postseason extinction with a 4-2 win in Game 2 at Centennial Ice Arena.
What looked like the Bulls’ best chance to even the best-of-five series may have been their final home game of the year as they head to the Helena Ice Arena on Friday.
Trailing 2-0 after goals by Rudy Pino and Constantine, Bulls coach Mike Hass used his timeout just 6:07 into the period to try to give his team a spark.
“We talked about why we were here and what works for us. And we weren’t doing it at the time,” Hass said. “We started segmenting the game and taking it shift-by-shift. We won a five-minute segment in the first (period) to get it to 2-1. Then we won a five-minute segment the first part of the second and got it tied up.
“We had a chance to win, and that’s what we were looking for tonight.”
One factor was the play of backup goalie Jake Mandin.
Mandin replaced starter Andrew Sherman after Billings’ timeout and went on to make several key saves to keep the Bulls in the game.
Mandin finished with 37 stops. But in the end the Bighorns’ strength and experience proved too much.
Helena was able to reclaim the lead on Constantine’s second goal at 12:37 of the second period. Constantine beat Mandin with a slap shot from the right point on the power play to make the score 3-2.
The Bighorns turned up the heat in the third period and out-shot the Bulls 17-5 while taking control of the final 20 minutes.
One of those shots, from the stick of Taylor Laneville, trickled past Mandin during a battle with Bulls defenseman Josh Phillips in front of the net.
As was the case in game one of the series the special teams play of the Bighorns was big factor in the win. Helena scored on three of its five power play opportunities. The Bulls, meanwhile, went scoreless on four power play chances.
\”Our special teams play has been looking pretty solid so far this postseason,\” commented Bighorns\’ associate coach Chris Hartly. \”We are doing a good job of limiting their powerplay chances and of creating our own, but we still need to do a better job of staying out of the box all together.\”
With the win Helena improved to 11-0 against the Bulls this season and are looking to end the perfect streak with game 3 of the best-of-five series scheduled to face off at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Helena Ice Arena.