(RAPID CITY, SD) – Zach Fischer scored twice and assisted once in the first period, and Brad Barone stopped 38 of 40 shots in net in his Rapid City Rush debut, as the two helped power the Rush to a crucial win against the Atlanta Gladiators with a 4-2 win on Saturday night. The win avoids a sweep from the Gladiators, and, paired with a Kansas City loss to Kalamazoo and Wichita regulation loss to Indy, puts the Rush in 5th place in the Mountain Division, and 6 points behind the Mavericks for the final playoff spot with 15 games remaining.
The Rush struck first for the first time all week against Atlanta, and did so on Zach Fischer’s first goal in a Rush uniform. With 11:32 gone by in the contest, Chris Leibinger cut through the Rush attacking zone, came within close range of the net, and fired a shot against his former teammate, Atlanta goalie Michael Bitzer. Bitzer made a great kick save on the initial shot, but Fischer sent the rebound in from in front of the crease to make it a 1-0 Rush lead (Leibinger had the lone assist). With 2:25 left in the period, Darby Llewellyn kept that line hot and doubled the lead with a dagger in his former team, bagging a rebound on a sequence up the ice with Leibinger and Fischer to give the Rush a 2-0 lead (Leibinger and Fischer assisted). Fischer struck again for the team’s only power play goal of the night with 41.3 seconds remaining in the period. After Dylan Quaile broke his stick on a one-timer, Fischer grabbed the loose puck, maneuvered near the net and backhanded a shot, picked up the rebound, and slipped it past Bitzer to bring the Rush lead to 3-0 (Quaile and Richard Coyne assisted). The goal prompted the removal of Bitzer from the game after allowing 3 goals on 9 shots in 19:19 of work, with Sean Bonar taking over for the remainder of the game.
Atlanta came out firing in the second period, starting off of on the man-advantage. In a rally in the first 90 seconds that saw Justin MacDonald hit a crossbar, Avery Peterson hit a post, and new Rush net-minder Brad Barone make a spectacular save, Nick Bligh finally pocketed a one-time shot from the far wall as Atlanta’s power play expired, beating Barone to cut the Rush lead to 3-1 (Filip Pyrochta and Joseph Widmar assisted).
The Rush lead stayed at 3-1 heading into the third period, until Matt Lane brought the Gladiators within striking distance late in the period. With 6:01 left in the game, Matt Lane crashed the slot area and fired a Pyrochta rebound by Barone to cut the deficit to 3-2 (Pyrochta and Zach Malatesta assisted). Atlanta pressured the Rush well with Bonar on the bench for the extra-attacker, but Cedric Montminy sealed the game with an empty-net goal with less than 30 seconds remaining, giving the Rush a desperately needed 4-2 win.
Brad Barone, making his Rush debut following a call-up from the SPHL’s Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs, earned his win with 38 saves on 40 shots (total record 4-4-0-1, 1-0-0-0 with Rush).
The Rush now embark on a two-game road trip next week, beginning with a Thursday night game against the Wichita Thunder. Puck drop at INTRUST Bank Arena is slated for 6:05 p.m. MST.