After a frantic finish by the Amarillo Bulls totally changed the complexion of the South finals, the rest of the series may hinge on which team will be more inspired by what occurred late in Game 2.
Will the Bulls, who scored four goals in a three-minute span to even up the series, still be riding high from Saturday night’s confidence-boosting 4-3 win?
Or, will the redemption-seeking Topeka RoadRunners storm back?
“It can go both ways,” RoadRunners coach Scott Langer said. “It certainly can motivate (the Bulls), heading home knowing it’s a brand new series. But we have to use it as motivation. It’s the only way to go at this point. We can’t have that game back.
“We’ve been getting better every day since then. We can’t let it affect us — it’s the playoffs. We have to move on and fight the next battle.”
The series will resume at 7 p.m. Thursday in Amarillo’s Cal Farley Coliseum. The winner of the third game will have an opportunity to close out the series Friday night in Game 4 at Amarillo. If the teams split the two games, Game 5 will be Monday night in Topeka.
The Runners were cruising along in Game 2 until the midway point of the third period. T.J. Sarcona got the Bulls on the board at the 10:36 mark before Dan McDougall brought Amarillo within a goal at 11:40.
Topeka then took back-to-back costly penalties, which resulted in back-to-back power-play goals by Zach Smoot and Cody Freeman, leaving the Runners in shock.
“That’s a humbling situation for our team,” Langer said. “You’re up 3-0 and you lose a game in three minutes. It just goes to show what we’ve been saying all year — they’re a team that’s never finished.
“I don’t know how to explain those goals. We definitely had some mental breakdowns. We know now that we’re only as good as every game we play.”
The Runners had plenty of chances to make sure Game 2 wasn’t even in reach for the Bulls to snag. But Topeka went 2 for 11 on the power play, while Amarillo was 2 for 5.
Langer knows the Runners will have to shore up a few things on special teams.
“On the penalty kill, obviously we have to do a better job of getting in the lanes. They shoot the puck extremely well,” Langer said. “We know that the timeliness of our penalties is not good. On the other side, when we get 11 (power-play chances) we have to figure out a way to bury a team. We had some pucks sitting on the doorstep that we just didn’t get to.”
The Runners went 4-1-1 in six regular-season games at Amarillo, wining the last four matchups on the Bulls’ ice. However, Langer expects his team to be battling a whole different atmosphere this week.
“We gave that team life,” Langer said. “We have to expect them to come out in their environment and be very energetic and physical. We’re going to have to play smart road-hockey.”
Nate Milam has paced the Runners offensively in the postseason, registering 10 points and six goals. Zack Smoot has been the main force for Amarillo, notching four goals and four assists in the playoffs.
Runners’ goalie Rasmus Tirronen stopped 43 of 49 shots in the first two games of the series, while Amarillo netminder Nikifor Szczerba turned aside 59 of the 65 shots he faced.
The playoff games can be heard online on Country Legends’ website, www.ktpk1069.com.