Preview: Rush to the Finish

The Steelheads’ final home stand of the regular season opens this week with three games against the Rapid City Rush, only the second visit to Boise this season for the Rush after they lost a single game at CenturyLink Arena back in mid-December. Now as we approach April, the Steelheads will have an opportunity to secure their 21st consecutive playoff berth this week while the Rush are headed towards an early summer.

Idaho’s magic number to clinch a playoff spot is five points, either gained by the Steelheads or lost by the Tulsa Oilers, with eight games remaining on the schedule. The Rush sit last in the Mountain Division and have already been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention after losing eight of their last nine games.

The Steelheads are coming off a big weekend in South Carolina, taking back-to-back shutout wins against the Stingrays in Charleston. The Steelheads became the first team this season to win consecutive games in regulation against the Stingrays, improving their road record to 19-11-3 for the best road record in the Mountain Division.

While the Steelheads won by playing stingy in front of goaltender Tomas Sholl, who earned the first two shutouts of his ECHL career, Connor Chatham helped fuel the offense. Chatham netted a goal in Atlanta on Tuesday and followed it with a goal and an assist in Thursday’s game in Charleston, scoring the insurance goal in a 3-0 win. AJ White was also strong on Thursday with two assists.

Steve McParland will have a chance to join an elite club over the season’s final eight games, two goals shy of reaching the 30-goal plateau. Only ten Steelheads have scored 30 goals in a season during the ECHL era, with Mark Derlago accomplishing the feat twice. McParland has five goals in his last seven games.

The Rush snapped an eight-game winless streak on Saturday with an overtime victory over the Wichita Thunder at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. It’s been a challenging season for first-year Head Coach Daniel Tetrault, with the Rush ranked second-to-last in the league standings and missing the playoffs for a third consecutive season.

Peter Sivak scored the overtime winner for the Rush on Saturday and has been a bright spot for the Rush this season. The sixth-year ECHLer is enjoying a three-game goal-scoring streak, with three goals and five points during that stretch, maintaining his pace as a point-per-game player.

Kenton Miller was one of Rapid City’s offensive leaders all season until he was dealt to the Adirondack Thunder two weeks back. Dante Salituro is currently with AHL Iowa.

With 47 points, the Rush are trying to fend off finishing with their lowest point total in a season since joining the ECHL in 2014. The Rush finished with 60 points last season.

Idaho is 8-2-0 this season against the Rush. Each of Idaho’s last four games at CenturyLink Arena have gone beyond regulation, and the Rush are 6-5 this season in overtime/shootout games.

STEELHEAD TO WATCH

No goaltender in the ECHL is playing as well as Tomas Sholl has been for the Steelheads since joining the team in a trade with the Adirondack Thunder. Sholl has earned ECHL Goaltender of the Week honors for each of the last two weeks, the first Steelhead to win the award twice consecutively. Sholl is coming off the first two shutouts of his ECHL career, stopping 60 of 60 shots against the Eastern Conference’s second-ranked team in the South Carolina Stingrays. Sholl is unbeaten in regulation in his first 12 ECHL appearances, with a 1.55 goals-against average and a .951 save percentage.

RUSH TO WATCH

The Rush have struggled to score goals this season, ranked second-to-last in goals per game, but rookie Jack Walker has been a solid scoring presence in the Black Hills. A sixth-round draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2016, Walker has put up 28 points in 34 games this season and earned a two-game stint with AHL Iowa as well. Walker has hit a skid without a goal in eleven games and with just one in his last 19 contests, but he still does have six assists in his last five games and is playing to make a statement for next season.
KEY MATCHUP

After facing the league’s stingiest team in Charleston, the Steelheads face a Rapid City team that has surrendered the third-most goals per game in the league this season. The Steelheads managed to grind out wins with four goals across the two games, but would hope to open things up this week and get some of their quieter players going again. Jefferson Dahl leads the Steelheads in scoring, but he has been limited to no goals and five assists in his last eleven games. Justin Parizek is also without goals in seven straight, and he has scored in just one of Idaho’s last 13 games. The Steelheads have had no trouble scoring against the Rush this season, averaging 3.5 goals per game. They will be without Brady Brassart for the series-opener on Wednesday, with Brassart serving the second game of a two-game suspension, and without Jack Nevins as he begins serving a five-game suspension this week.