RAPID CITY, S.D. – Brennan Saulnier completed his second hat trick of the season by the end of the second period, but the Wichita Thunder surged for four unanswered goals, and five overall, in the third period to defeat the Rapid City Rush by a 7-4 score on Saturday night. The loss forces a rubber match in tomorrow’s series finale, and last meeting in the Black Hills this season between the division rivals.
For a second game this weekend, the Rush provided the first goal of the game. Brennan Saulnier began his scoring explosion with 2:15 left in the first period, burying a Darian Romanko east-west pass in the slot area by Thunder goalie Dylan Wells to give the Rush a 1-0 lead (Romanko and Stephane Legault assisted).
Wichita struck twice in the second period, but were countered both times for Saulnier, who completed his hat trick before the end of the frame. Garrett Schmitz got Wichita on the board when his blue line wrist shot whizzed through traffic and by a screened Tyler Parks in the Rush net, squaring the game at 1-1 with 3:29 gone by in the second (Stefan Fournier and Chris Crane assisted). Saulnier’s first counterpunch followed shortly after on an individual effort in front of the Thunder net. After fanning on a few shot attempts in close range, Saulnier maneuvered towards the net and tucked the puck by Wells to put the Rush back on top 2-1 with 5:01 played in the second (the goal was unassisted). Jason Salvaggio drew the game level again exactly 75 seconds later when he potted the rebound off of a Garrett Schmitz shot from the center lane. After Parks challenged and made the initial save, Salvaggio was all alone to slam the rebound and square the game at 2-2 at 6:46 of the second period (Schmitz and Nolan Vesey assisted). One last time in the period, Saulnier responded and gave the Rush the lead, securing his hat trick on the power play. With 61 seconds left in the second, Saulnier rifled a backdoor one-timer on pass from Keeghan Howdeshell to give the Rush a 3-2 lead heading into the intermission (Howdeshell and Jalen Smereck assisted).
The Thunder came storming back in the third period, firing off four unanswered goals to overtake the Rush. Beau Starrett tied the game up at 5:14 of the second period when he deflected a Vincent Desharnais blue line shot past Parks to square the game at 3-3 (Desharnais and Fabrizio Ricci assisted). Ostap Safin then broke the deadlock with a wrister from the far wall of the Rush zone to begin a stretch of three goals scored in 3:42, starting at 10:54 of the third to make it 4-3 Wichita (Chris Crane had the lone assist). Nolan Vesey followed Safin’s strike 36 seconds later with a shot right down the center lane that zipped past Parks to bring Wichita’s advantage to 5-3 with 8:30 left in regulation (Spencer Dorowicz and Jason Salvaggio assisted). Stefan Fournier finished the four-goal outburst when he hacked a rebound off of a shot past Parks, making it 6-3 with 5:24 left in the game (Vincent Desharnais and Ostap Safin assisted). Jalen Smereck countered within the final moments on the power play to try and bring the Rush within striking distance, threading a blue line wrist shot off of a body and past Wells to cut the deficit to 6-4 with 2:58 left in the game (Tyler Poulsen and Brennan Saulnier assisted). Fournier ended the comeback bid with an empty-netter with 34 seconds remaining to bring the game to its 7-4 final score.
Tyler Parks stopped 29 of 35 shots in the defeat, his first loss with the Rush since January 8th (12-7-3-0).
The Rush conclude their “three-in-three” series against the Wichita Thunder in a rubber match tomorrow, January 26th, which serves as the game that was rescheduled from December 4th. Puck drop is slated for 4:05 p.m. MDT at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center Ice Arena. Tickets for the December 4th game can be redeemed for admission tomorrow afternoon.