(Photo: Troy Young)
WICHITA FALLS, Texas – The Wichita Falls Wildcats erased an early two-goal deficit to claim a 5-4 win over the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees at the Kay Yeager Coliseum on Friday night, as the Wildcats secured the series victory over the Killer Bees, two games to none, to advance to the South Division Semifinals against the Topeka RoadRunners.
The victory over the Killer Bees marks the first playoff series win in Wildcats history.
Austin Beaulieu led the way on offense for the ‘Cats, with three points on a goal and two assists. Matt Koch and Colin Staub each had multi-point nights with a goal and an assist, while Tommy Apap and Jonny Lazarus also found twine for Wichita Falls.
Cam Knight and Nikitia Litviak both chipped in with an assist in the win, and David Zevnik made 19 saves on 21 shots to earn the win in relief.
Backed by the exploits of Logan Wendling, Rio Grande Valley skated out to a 2-0 lead in the first period as the Killer Bees controlled the first portion of the opening frame.
First, Wendling tapped a loose puck into an open net after a defensive miscue behind the Wichita Falls cage. A few minutes later, Wendling grabbed his second when he snuck a shot through the five-hole of Austin Shaw to make it 2-0.
Zevnik came in to relieve Shaw follow the second goal for RGV, but did not have much to do the remainder of the first period, as the red-and-black mounted sustained pressure in the offensive zone following their first power-play opportunity. Nick Schmit turned aside all 11 efforts from the red-and-black though, preserving the two-goal lead for the Killer Bees entering the second.
In the second, the Wildcats roared back against the Bees to tie the contest with a pair of goals in the first five minutes of the frame.
First, Koch pulled Wichita Falls within one with a marker on the power play. Beaulieu’s shot from the left circle was deflected by Staub on the back door and barely stayed out of the net, but the ‘Cats managed to force it to the point. Seeing a pile-up in front of the net, Koch quickly wristed the puck towards the cage and into the top corner for his second-career playoff goal.
The Wildcats tied the contest a few minutes later on a breakaway chance after Evan Bell could not hold the zone for Rio Grande Valley. Lazarus stripped Bell in the neutral zone and charged onto the loose puck along the right-wing wall. At the circle, the New York-native cut towards the cage and held on a forehand shot, before backhanding an effort into the roof of the net to make it 2-2.
The Killer Bees regained the lead in short order when Mason Van Tuyl found the net on a shot through traffic from the point, but the Wildcats simply went back to work in the offensive end.
After Litviak made a nice play to knock a clearing attempt out of midair along the wall, the Russian slipped it below the goal line for Beaulieu, who began to search for a pass into the slot. With nobody open in front, Beaulieu walked out in front and curled to the hashmarks, then flicked a wrister past Schmit to level the affair, 3-3.
In the early stages of the third period, the ‘Cats picked up where they left at the end of the second, and took their first lead of the net as a result of that sustained pressure.
Of an offensive-zone draw, Koch held the point before lofting the puck to the back-glass. Apap battled and won the puck back behind the net and moved it quickly to Beaulieu in the left-wing corner, who in turn centered for an unmarked-Staub to fire home from the top of the slot to make it 4-3.
A penalty assessed to the Bees allowed the red-and-black to keep the offensive pressure on, with Wichita Falls expanding its lead when Apap deflected Koch’s effort from the middle of the blue line past Schmit for a 5-3 lead.
The Killer Bees continued to fight, and pulled within one on a power-play tally from Stathis Soumelidis with just under 11 minutes remaining to set up a grandstand finish.
Wichita Falls repelled everything RGV sent towards the cage of Zevnik though, as the ‘Cats held on for a 5-4 win on the night and a 2-0 win in the best-of-three series.
The Wildcats will next be in action when they open the South Division semi-finals against the Topeka RoadRunners on Friday, April 10 at Landon Arena at the Kansas Expocentre. Video coverage will be available via FASTHockey.com, and fans may also follow the action using an audio-only stream on YouTube.
Tickets for the 2015 Robertson Cup playoffs are on sale now at the Kay Yeager Coliseum box office, and can be purchased in person or by calling (940) 716-5555. Stay updated on the latest team news and notes by connecting with the Wildcats on Facebook (WFWildcats), Twitter (@WFWildcats), Instagram (WFWildcats) and YouTube (Wichita Falls Wildcats).
Rio Grande Valley – Logan Wendling (Daniel Nilsson, Guy Roby) 3:10
Rio Grande Valley – Logan Wendling (Austin Swingle, Guy Roby) 8:24
Wichita Falls – Matt Koch (power play) (Colin Staub, Austin Beaulieu) 2:02
Wichita Falls – Jonathan Lazarus (Konstantin Chernyuk) 5:07
Rio Grande Valley – Mason Van Tuyl (Logan Wendling) 5:49
Wichita Falls – Austin Beaulieu (Nikita Litviak) 10:26
Wichita Falls – Colin Staub (Austin Beaulieu) 3:01
Wichita Falls – Tommy Apap (power play) (Matt Koch, Cam Knight) 4:40
Rio Grande Valley – Stathis Soumelidis (power play) (Anthony Croston, Dallas Gerads) 9:03