Entering Game 1 of a first round NorPac Hockey League playoff series with Billings, Helena Bighorns coach Scott Cunningham stressed that his team needed to be successful on special teams to help their chances of beating the fourth seed Bulls.
The Bighorns Won the opener 4-2 Tuesday night at Centennial Arena in Billings and they can credit their special teams for the win.
The Bighorns went 2 for 5 on the powerplay and they only surrendering 2 powerplay goals against while shorthanded 13 times.
Rudi Pino started the scoring at the 8:40 mark of the first period when he recieved a pass, from Gehrett Sargis, along the boards in the Bulls zone and walked in front and drilled the puck into the net. Zack Maxwell made it 2-0 just 1:55 into the second period when he would bury a set up from Nolan Grauer and Adam Johnson.
The Bulls would pull within one as Jason Effertz would score on the powerplay with about halkf the game remaining. Just four minutes after that goal the Bighorns powerplay would take over. Cody Hess scored the first powerplay goal of the game for the Bighorns on a redirect from a Maxwell point shot; and just two minutes after that Maxwell would tally his own powerplay goal off a nice feed form Pino to make it 4-1 Helena.
Headin into the third period with a three goal deficit, the Bulls were looking to get something when Alex Garbiso would add the second powerplay goal for Billings with 12:45 left in regulation. It was the last goal of the game despite several chances at both ends, including a penalty shot awarded to Keith Tessin of the Bulls that Ryan Sutliffe made a routine looking save on.
The loss gives the Helena an impressive 10-0 mark against Billings this year and puts them only two more wins away from ending the season perfect against their rival, something that hasn’t occurred in franchise history.
The clear favorite heading into the matchup, Helena Bighorns head coach Scott Cunningham said that his young squad looked more nervous than the veteran groups that have won back-to-back Cascade Cup titles.
“They played OK. I thought we played pretty uptight, pretty nervous for the first half of the game,” Cunningham said. “There’s enough vets in the room that it shouldn’t have affected them.\”
“They’ve got one game under their belt and I expect them to be better tomorrow night.”
One veteran who was unflappable in the game was Maxwell, who also picked up an assist on Hess’ goal for a team-high three points to start the playoffs.
“He just does what he always does,” Cunningham said of his top defenseman. “He’s fairly calm on the ice and he’s got a presence out there at most times.
“He had a couple of lanes there and took advantage of their mistakes.”
Game 2 is tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Centennial Arena.