In a contest that featured two teams battling for potential Calder Cup playoff births, an empty net goal proved to be the deciding factor as the San Antonio Rampage fell to the visiting Lake Erie Monsters by a 5-4 score in front of 8,697 at the AT&T Center.
The Rampage set a season-high attendance record for 2009-10 and raised $10,950 for their Face-Off Against Kids Cancer program in a post game jersey auction.
San Antonio (32-30-4-7) entered Saturday’s contest tied for the American Hockey League’s fourth-best power play percentage (20.5) and faced a Lake Erie club that entered Saturday tied for the league’s worst penalty killing percentage (79.4). However, on Saturday special teams proved to be of little significance as referee Jeff Smith whistled a mere two penalties on the night, both called on the Monsters.
San Antonio opened the scoring at the 5:07 mark of the first on left wing Alexandre Picard’s 25th goal and ninth power-play goal of the season. After gaining possession of the puck on the right point, Rampage right wing Mikkel Boedker sent a pass to forward Brett MacLean on the left half wall. MacLean then found Boedker in the high slot, where the winger fired a waist-high slap shot that was tipped in front by Picard.
Lake Erie responded with a goal of their own at 7:04 of the first when Monsters right wing Mike Bartlett notched his sixth goal of the year. After beating a Rampage defenseman to a race for a loose puck at the top of the right faceoff circle in the San Antonio zone, Bartlett then curled behind the Rampage net and wrapped the puck inside the left post to tie the game at 1-1.
Less than four minutes later, Lake Erie took 2-1 lead on rookie forward Zack Cohen’s first AHL goal. After intercepting a failed San Antonio clearing attempt on the left point, Monsters defenseman Kevin Montgomery wrapped the puck around the left boards to right wing Darren Haydar behind the Rampage net. Maintaining possession after being checked by a San Antonio defenseman, Haydar found Cohen on the right post, where the forward beat San Antonio netminder Miika Wiikman between the five-hole.
With six minutes and 53 seconds remaining in the first, San Antonio tied the game at 2-2 on a goal by center Joel Perrault. After finding a loose puck at the bottom of the right faceoff circle of the Lake Erie zone, Rampage captain Jeff Hoggan found Perrault in the slot, where the center beat Monsters goaltender John Grahame high to the blocker side.
Lake Erie took a 3-2 lead at the 13:33 mark of the second on rookie center Mike Carman’s first AHL goal. Preventing a San Antonio clearing attempt from leaving the right point of the Rampage zone, Monsters blueliner Travis Gawryletz sent a cross-blueline pass to defenseman Brett Skinner on the left point. Skinner then found Carman on the right faceoff dot, where the centerman fired a wrist shot inside the right post.
A minute and 20 second later, the Monsters increased their lead to 4-2 when rookie left wing Justin Mercier tallied his 12th goal of the 2009-10 campaign. Receiving a cycling feed from Haydar on the right half wall of the San Antonio zone, Lake Erie center Philippe Dupuis fired a quick shot which bounced off Wiikman to Mercier on the right post, where the left wing deposited a backhand high to Wiikman’s glove side.
Refusing to give in, San Antonio closed the deficit to 4-3 with two seconds remaining in the second stanza on Boedker’s 10th goal of the season. Controlling the puck on the left point, Rampage defenseman Sean Sullivan fired a shot from the top of the left circle that deflected off the skate of right wing Matt Watkins on the left post to Boedker in the slot, where the winger was waiting to bury the rebound.
With 56 seconds remaining in regulation and Wiikman on the San Antonio bench in favor of an extra attacker, Dupuis increased the Lake Erie lead to 5-3 by firing a long wrist shot from the Rampage blueline into the empty San Antonio net.
The Rampage made things interesting with 21 seconds remaining in the game, as center Kyle Turris received a feed from MacLean on the left post, fired a shot off Grahame and buried his own rebound low to the blocker side to bring the Rampage within a goal.
However, Grahame stood tall the rest of the way and allowed the Monsters to hang on for the victory.
Wiikman made 29 saves on 33 Lake Erie shots in the loss, while Grahame turned away 37 of 41 San Antonio shots for the victory.
The Rampage were 1-for-2 on the power-play and did not receive any penalty killing opportunities in the game.
San Antonio and Lake Erie will reunite on Sunday afternoon for a 3 p.m. matchup at the AT&T Center. Tomorrow’s game is also Pucks & Paws night in which fans are encouraged to bring their dog to the game.