Missouri Mavericks defenseman Zach Tolkinen knows good things happen when you shoot the puck on goal.
His shot from just inside the blue line late in the second period was fumbled by Quad City goalie P.J. Musico and eventually found its way into the back of the net.
That marked the game-winning goal for the Mavericks in a 6-3 victory Saturday in Game 1 of the ECHL Western Conference quarterfinals at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena.
“You have to challenge the goalie. You get pucks to the net when you can,” Tolkinen said. “I think he did me a favor as the shot was about 3 feet over the goal. I’m sure he doesn’t see too many high shots. The shooting lane was open and it was a lucky, fluke bounce. ”
On a night in which ECHL commissioner Brian McKenna presented the Mavericks the Brabham Cup for the best record in the regular season, Missouri prevailed in what was a back-and-forth game for two periods before scoring two goals late.
“You fight 72 games to make sure you have the first one at home,” Mavericks coach Richard Matvichuk said. “If we drop the first game, then obviously the home ice switches. It was big for us to stay with it.”
The Mavericks overcame a hat trick by Quad City left winger Matt Carey, who spent most of the season in the AHL playing for Iowa before being sent to Quad City prior to the playoffs.
Carey scored his first goal fewer than 2 minutes into the game, and his third goal 15 seconds into the second period gave the Mallards a brief 3-2 lead.
“We found a way to battle and score late,” Matvichuk said. “I thought we played a lot better as the game went on. Give them credit, they came out and threw everything they had at us early. Carey was great. This was playoff hockey.”
Forward Andrew Courtney scored two goals to pace the Mavericks’ offense, his second goal tying the game at 3-3 in the second period.
“To be able to fight back and take the lead is huge for the team,” Courtney said. “We need to carry over this momentum to Sunday. My goals were a team effort. My teammates got the puck to me at the right spot and I just banged it home.”
Right winger Tyler Barnes gave the Mavericks a 2-1 lead on a power-play goal late in the first period, deflecting a shot by Bryce Aneloski into the net while screening Musico.
Defenseman Chris Owens and forward Josh Holmstron scored empty-net goals in the final 90 seconds.
“As much as I like the win, I liked how we played in the third,” Matvichuk said. “We’ll come back Sunday, put the work boots on and hope to play the way we did at the end. It’s only one game. It’s a long series. The playoffs are long and grueling; it’s a matter of not getting too high or too low.”
MAVERICKS 6, MALLARDS 3
First period: 1, Quad City, Carey 1 (McMillan, Knackstedt), 1:49. 2, Missouri, Courtney 1 (Aneloski, Nowick), 9:24. 3, Missouri, Barnes 1 (Aneloski, Graham), 14:16 (PP). 4, Quad City, Carey 2 (Nikiforov, Coldwell), 16:47 (PP). Second period: 5, Quad City, Knackstedt 1 (Carey, Knight), 0:15 (PP). 6, Missouri, Courtney 2 (Graham), 3:39 (PP). 7, Missouri, Tolkinen 1 (Carzo, Graham), 16:42. Third period: 8, Missouri, Owens 1 18:25 (SH EN). 9, Missouri, Holmstrom 1 (Carzo, Tolkinen), 19:51 (EN). Shots on goal: Quad City 41, Missouri 29. Power plays: Quad City 2-5, Missouri 2-4. Saves: Hoffman, Quad City, 23; Robinson, Missouri, 38. Att: 5,800.