It was supposed to be a bounce-back game for the Topeka RoadRunners.
But instead of rebounding from this past weekend’s sweep by St. Louis, the RoadRunners were plagued by many of the same issues that hurt them against the Bandits, falling 3-2 to the Amarillo Bulls on Wednesday night at Landon Arena.
As they did in Saturday’s 5-1 loss to St. Louis, the Runners (42-12-3) spent a good portion of the first period in the penalty box, committing six infractions while Amarillo was whistled for three. Amarillo was able to capitalize with two goals in the first and added another goal in the second to put the Runners in a hole.
“We got behind there early with the penalties called. It was a tough situation to be in,” RoadRunners assistant coach R.J. Enga said. “(The Bulls) were able to capitalize on a couple of mistakes early. They played hard. We didn’t really answer the bell until the third period and it was too little, too late.
“Our guys have been resilient all year. Hopefully (tonight) we can start off and play more five-on-five hockey and maybe with some hard work, we can draw some penalties and capitalize on those opportunities.”
The Runners, who have dropped three straight after putting together a 10-game win streak, put up just nine shots through the first two periods and finished with 18 attempts while holding Amarillo to 14.
“We’re a team that manages the puck pretty well normally, and I don’t think we managed the puck that well tonight, especially in the end-zone offense,” Enga said. “We turned the puck over, and at times I think we were guilty of trying to make too pretty of a play, as opposed to just putting a shot on net and crashing for a rebound.”
The Bulls took advantage of back-to-back Topeka penalties early, cashing in on a 5-on-3 power play when Zack Smoot put in a puck that ricocheted off the back boards at 7:24. T.J. Sarcona then found the back of the net at 8:51 to put Amarillo up 2-0.
The Bulls (36-14-6) put the Runners in a deeper hole midway through the second period when Smoot tapped in a loose puck. At that time, the Bulls had netted three goals on just eight shots.
The RoadRunners managed to get some momentum heading into the third, getting on the board with just 34 seconds left in the second on Zach Schrotenboer’s tally.
Topeka struck again late on a goal by Jordan Davis at the 18:50 mark of the third but was unable to find the equalizer.
Amarillo goalie Nikifor Szczerba turned aside 16 of 18. Topeka goalie Rasmus Tirronen stopped 11 of 14.
The Runners will host the Bulls in their regular season finale at 7:05 tonight with a lot still on the line. Topeka still remains just a point away from the clinching the NAHL regular-season title. The Runners also would like to enter the playoffs on somewhat of a positive note.
“It’s a huge game and we know that,” Enga said. “But it’s always good to play good teams as you head into the playoffs to keep yourself battle tested.”
Amarillo 2 1 0 — 3
Topeka 0 1 1 — 2
First period — 1. Amarillo, Smoot (Johnson, Lubin), 7:24. 2. Amarillo, Sarcona (unassisted), 8:51.
Second period — 3. Amarillo, Smoot (Johnson, Popilock), 10:01; 4. Topeka, Schrotenboer (Davis, Ramsey), 19:26.
Third period — 5. Topeka, Davis (Middleton, White), 18:50.
Shots on goal — Amarillo 4-6-4 – 14. Topeka 6-3-9 — 18.
Goalies — Amarillo, Szczerba. Topeka, Tirronen.
Attendance — 1,912.
Stars of the game — First star: Smoot. Second star: Sarcona. Third star: Schrotenboer.