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Series Preview: Season Finale

Friday, April 8th
Series Preview: Season Finale

The Steelheads will wrap up the 2015-16 regular season on home ice this weekend, taking on a Missouri Mavericks team that is the best in the ECHL but is playing through its most difficult stretch of the season. While the Steelheads got back in the swing of things on Tuesday with a 2-0 shutout win over the Rapid City Rush, the Mavericks are riding a three-game losing streak that is their longest of the season.

The Steelheads are second in the West Division, tied with the Colorado Eagles with 84 points but with fewer regulation and overtime wins. They’ll have an eye on the Eagles this weekend, who play the Alaska Aces in their final two games of the season, as well as the Utah Grizzlies wrapping up the year in Rapid City. It is entirely possible that the Steelheads will not know their playoff plans until the end of Saturday night’s game.

The Steelheads broke a 1-2-3 rough patch with their win on Tuesday, Philippe Desorsiers’ second career shutout and second of the season at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. Desrosiers made 36 saves on the night, supported by Kyle Jean’s power play goal and an empty-netter by Carson McMillan.

The Steelheads may have given up 36 shots under an all-out Rush attack, especially in the third period, but the Steelheads did a lock-down defensive job in Rapid City. That included a perfect night on the penalty kill in which they did not surrender a shot on goal in either shorthanded situation.

Missouri has dropped three straight for the first time all year, falling twice to the Allen Americans and then losing to a desperate Tulsa team on Tuesday night. The Mavericks have been in first place in the ECHL for practically the entire season and are the only team in the league above the 100-point mark, but much of that success came with the help of some former Steelheads that are not expected in the lineup this weekend.

Ex-Steelhead David de Kastrozza will be available for Missouri head coach Richard Matvichuk this weekend, coming in with ten goals and 24 points on the season, as will former Idaho defenseman Trevor Ludwig. Missing from the lineup will be three of Missouri’s most effective players and former Steelheads. Goaltender Josh Robinson, who started the season with an ECHL record 27-game unbeaten streak, and defenseman Patrick Cullity are both on loan to AHL teams, with Robinson in Stockton and Cullity in Bridgeport.

Jesse Root, with 26 goals and 59 points in 50 games this season, is a Second Team All-ECHLer this year after spending part of his rookie campaign in Boise in 2014-15. Root is out of the lineup  for the rest of the season with an injury, however, and has not played since March 9th.

The Mavericks still get big-time production from Tyler Barnes, leading the team with 61 points. Barnes, however, has just two goals in his last 13 games. Rocco Carzo is three games removed from an eight-game points streak, but has not scored a goal in his last 17 games and has just one goal in his last 23 outings.

This will be the first ever meeting between the two teams.

STEELHEAD TO WATCH

The Mavericks may be missing some big names, but they’re still the league’s second-highest scoring team and can force a high-scoring game. The Steelheads will need a tight defense from both ends of the bench, and Carson McMillan was a defensive leader for Idaho in Rapid City. Always defensively responsible and a top penalty-killer, McMillan was also the Steelheads best face-off man against the Rush, including in the third period when he took most of the defensive zone draws. Add ten points in the last 13 games, and the Steelheads’ captain has been one of their most dependable two-way forwards.

MAVERICK TO WATCH

It’s been a bumpy year for Steven Summerhays, but as of Thursday night he was the only contracted goaltender on the Missouri roster with Robinson on loan to AHL Stockton. Summerhays went 4-7-1 with the Alaska Aces in the first part of the year, at one point making just one start in the course of seven weeks while Aces coach Rob Murray opted to go with Troy Redmann almost exclusively. Summerhays found more success after being dealt to the Mavericks, going 4-3-1 with a vastly improved 2.05 goals-against average and .921 save percentage. The Mavericks have been accustomed to great goaltending all season long, and with injuries and call-ups affecting their roster for this weekend, his performance will be a large factor in Idaho’s push for a division title.

KEY MATCHUP

Focus on the game at hand. We’ve heard that sentence a lot this season from Neil Graham and it may never be truer than it will be this weekend. The Steelheads need the Eagles to drop a point in one of their games this weekend if Idaho is going to take the division title, but that won’t matter if the Steelheads don’t win their own games. They face the league’s best team, limping for the first time this season, with the Steelheads having an opportunity to send a strong message heading into playoffs. More important for Idaho than the standings is that the team is playing its best hockey when the season wraps up.

This weekend is the final quiz before exam week. The Steelheads will have their eyes on their own paper, and we’ll see how well they have prepared.

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