Johnson’s hat trick sparks Bighorns past Quake

CODY, Wyo. — Adam Johnson scored three goals and Nic Wackerly made 40 saves as the Helena Bighorns bounced back from a rare defeat with a 4-3 victory over the Yellowstone Quake in a NorPac game on Sunday afternoon.

“It’s important to get better every game, every shift,” said Helena coach Scott Cunningham, whose team has lost back-to-back games only once this season. Helena won six of nine meetings with Yellowstone this season.

Rudy Pino added a goal and an assist for Helena (38-5, 76 points), marking the 11 th time in the last 12 games that Pino has had at least one point. Pino has recorded either a goal or an assist in 39 of the team’s 43 games this season and Helena is 37-2 when he appears on the scoresheet. He was held off the scoresheet in Saturday’s 2-1 loss.

Pino leads the team and is third in the NorPac with 79 points, with Johnson close behind with 78. Johnson extended his scoring streak to 12 consecutive games, the longest current streak on the team.

Johnson gave the Bighorns the lead at 3-2 on a shorthanded, unassisted goal with 4:07 remaining in the second period.

The Bighorns again fell behind early, with Yellowstone (31-13, 62 points) getting first period goals from Chase Cooney and Chris Rinaldi to take a 2-0 lead with less than a minute remaining in the first period.

Just eight seconds after Rinaldi’s goal gave Yellowstone a 2-0 lead, Johnson scored off assists from Pino and Zack Maxwell to cut the lead to 2-1 at the first intermission. Maxwell had two assists in the contest.

“That was a big goal for us,” Cunningham said.

Helena wasted little time in tying the game at the start of the second period, with Pino capitalizing on a power play to tied the game at 2 just 47 seconds in.

After Johnson gave Helena the 3-2 lead at the second intermission, he posted his third goal of the day 4:31 into the third off an assist from Patrick Love. It was Johnson’s third hat trick this season.

Yellowstone’s Jake Doty scored on a power play with 7:39 left to cut the margin to 4-3, but Wackerly preserved the lead, finishing with 40 saves, just two short of a season high.

With the America West Division title and top seed to the Cascade Cup playoffs wrapped up, Helena continued to add new players to its lineup. Defenseman Gene Constantin and forward Jared Sargis, both new acquisitions from North American Hockey League teams, made their Helena debut Sunday.

“The next five games, it’s important to get everybody situated where they’re at,” Cunningham said.

The Bighorns will face Billings on Friday night in a likely preview of their first-round playoff matchup.

Yellowstone will face Missoula in the first round, with both clubs still battling for home-ice advantage in that best-of-five series.