The Helena Bighorns seem to have fixed what has been their Achilles Heel this season.
A year after leading the NorPac in power-play goals, the Bighorns had just one score in 33 chances (a league worst) heading into Saturday night\’s game against the Missoula Maulers. But things finally fell in Helena\’s favor in that department, as the unbeaten Bighorns (7-0) scored on three out of seven power plays to notch a 4-2 win over third-ranked Missoula (4-2) at the Helena Ice Arena.
\”We finally connected,\” Bighorns coach Scott Cunningham said following top-ranked Helena\’s seventh win of the season. \”Over the last few weeks we\’ve been working on that. We\’d had our opportunities, we just hadn\’t had any puck luck.\”
It wasn\’t luck that put the Bighorns over Missoula, but a new-found trust in one another. Cunningham said he was happy to see his guys finally playing like a team, and getting the power-play goals when they needed them most.
After Missoula\’s Julian Breux scored the Maulers\’ lone power-play goal of the night to tie the game at 2-all early in the second period, two consecutive Maulers\’ penalties gave the Bighorns plenty of opportunities to score.
But after Helena\’s Zach Maxwell tried three consecutive slap shots at Missoula netminder Andy DiCristofaro with no success, David Smith took the puck from Cody Hess and scored with 1 second left on the power play to give the Bighorns the lead.
Twenty seconds later, Alec Burks took a pass from Adam Johnson and used a wrist shot to sneak the puck by on the right side of the net and give the Bighorns an insurance goal.
Chad James and Matt Oberling scored the first two goals for Helena, both on power plays.
The contest was a physical one, with Helena\’s Ty Schindler in on plenty of the brawls. Schindler was called for a fighting major late in the second period and roughing and unsportsmanlike conduct in the third. The Bighorns\’ Tyler McGreevy was then ejected for two straight spearing calls.
Despite the lack of Bighorns on the ice, Helena goalie Noble Tucker – playing just his second game in net – didn\’t allow a single score in the final period. Tucker finished the game with 23 saves on 25 shots. The Bighorns had 40 shots on goal.
\”He did very well,\” Cunningham said of Tucker. \”He made some key saves early and a lot of the third period we were playing short-handed and he came up big.\”
Cunningham said at the beginning of the season that the up-and-coming Maulers would be a team to test the Bighorns, last season\’s NorPac champions. Despite Missoula\’s dismal performance against a winless Butte squad the previous night – the Maulers won 2-1 Friday – Cunningham still believes they\’re a solid team who could give opponents some headaches this season.
\”Well, when Missoula plays Butte I\’m thinking they might have done what we tend to do sometimes,\” he said. \”You kind of fall asleep, play down to their level.\”
The Maulers gave the Bighorns a game on Saturday, and Cunningham believes it\’ll be even tougher when Helena has to face them at Glacier Ice Rink in Missoula.
\”Home-ice advantage is huge, especially in our building, because in my opinion we have the best crowd in the league,\” Cunningham said.