Bighorns edge Missoula in double overtime for seventh straight win

Rudi Pino scored the game-winning goal in double overtime as the Helena Bighorns finally put away the Missoula Maulers 2-1 Saturday night in a matchup between the NorPac America West Division’s top two teams.

Pino’s goal came in a 3-on-3 matchup and came at the 3:37 mark off assists by defensemen Chad James and Zack Maxwell.

“Chad and Zack both made good plays to keep the puck in the zone,” said Bighorns head coach Scott Cunningham. “Pino was on the left side of the net, it was a good pass and Pino buried it.”

Pino’s goal broke the tie set when Tyler Marek scored 12:24 into the third period off assists by Grey Edwards and Aaron Arnold.

Cody Hess scored first for the Bighorns, breaking a first-period stalemate with a power-play goal at the 5:35 mark of the second.

Cunningham wasn’t very surprised by the close outcome of the game. The top-ranked Bighorns (17-1, 34 points) lead the Maulers (13-7, 26 points) in the division standings and edged their foe 4-2 Friday night. The final score came on an empty-net goal.

“I think Missoula last year became a pretty good rival with us,” Cunningham said. “With Bozeman not doing so well, it puts a little more pressure on us and Missoula to keep that rivalry.”

The two teams went tit-for-tat in the first period, getting seven shots apiece, before the Bighorns began to pull away.

Though outshooting the Maulers by 14 over the final four stanzas, they struggled to get past Missoula goalie Andy DiCristofaro, who finished with 40 saves.

“He’s pretty good glove side, and a lot of our shots were high glove,” Cunningham said. “Give him credit, he made the save.”

Helena’s Ryan Sutliffe, meanwhile, picked up his 10th win by getting 27 saves on the night.

“Ryan Sutliffe played really well again. He made some key saves,” Cunningham said.

The Bighorns kept their record of killing 60 straight penalties alive, even in the first overtime.

By the third, when each team plays with just three men on the ice at a time, neither squad was willing to send a man to the box.

As for playing with two less players on the ice?

“We don’t practice it a whole lot,” Cunningham said. “Guys have just got to support each other and get open, get available.

“Hopefully — and let’s not make it a trend — we don’t play a lot of overtime.”