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Examiner
  • Mavericks snag playoff spot

  • Boosted by Brandon Smith’s tiebreaking goal in a 4-on-4 situation in the third period, the Missouri Mavericks clinched the fourth and final playoff berth in the Turner Conference with Friday’s 5-3 win over the Bloomington Blaze at the Independence Events Center.

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  • Boosted by Brandon Smith’s tiebreaking goal in a 4-on-4 situation in the third period, the Missouri Mavericks clinched the fourth and final playoff berth in the Turner Conference with Friday’s 5-3 win over the Bloomington Blaze at the Independence Events Center.
    Playing in front another sellout crowd at the Independence Events Center, the Mavericks (37-21-6) needed just one point in their final three games to outlast Quad City for fourth in the Turner Conference. With 80 points, Missouri remained three behind conference-leading Fort Wayne and two behind Evansville and Rapid City and still can challenge for a higher seed.
    “We didn’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” said Smith, whose go-ahead score at 4:47 was his fifth goal this season. “Even though we were just one point from the playoffs, we’re just three points from first place and we want all six points. It’s been tough, because every game’s been like a playoff game for a month.”
    Sebastian Thinel punched in a loose puck for an insurance goal at 11:12 in the third, and the Mavericks killed two penalties in the last seven minutes, finally bringing some relief after more than a month of fighting to keep an upper hand in the Turner playoff picture.
    “We’ve been battling for the last six weeks, and every game’s had that must-win feeling,” said goalie Charlie Effinger, who earned his Central Hockey League-best 31st win.
    Effinger yielded three goals on 20 shots through the first two periods but turned aside all 12 Blaze shots in the third.
    “I didn’t say I can’t be allowing goals,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘Let’s just try to win this period.’ I trusted this group of guys to get in the playoffs. Even if nobody scored, we’d still get the point.”
    Ed McGrane, Ryan Jardine and John-Scott Dickson had the Mavericks’ earlier goals, David Simoes assisted on the first two goals, and Cole Ruwe, McGrane, Matt McCready and Andrew Courtney also registered assists.
    Bloomington’s Jordy Trottier struck just 1:59 into the game, snapping in a long rebound after a teammate’s shot hit the post.
    McGrane tied things at 14:28 in the first, and two minutes later Jardine deflected a Simoes slapper past the Blaze’s Brian Mahoney-Wilson, who won a pair of games in a short stint with Mavericks back in December.
    In the final minute of first, Kyle Laughlin zipped in a breakaway goal off a counter-rush to produce a 2-2 tie.
    Dickson’s goal, a no-looker after he paused and did a 360 spin during an odd-man rush, gave the Mavs another lead at 4:05 in the second, but Jon Booras netted a wraparound at 9:30 for Bloomington.
    Smith owed his goal in large part to McCready, who made a nifty steal in the middle just short of the blue line during the 4-on-4. With Smith still onsides near the left point, he received a pass from McCready, let a defender slide by and snapped a shot past Mahoney-Wilson.
    Page 2 of 2 - “To tell the truth, it happened pretty quickly and I was on auto-pilot,” Smith said. “I knew if I fired a shot right away he’s block it, so once he slid I had an open lane.”
    “If we’re taking care of things, we’ll cause turnovers,” Mavericks coach Scott Hillman said, “and we took advantage of one.”
    Hillman, who now has piloted the team to the postseason in each of its three seasons of existence, said the first 40 minutes didn’t go all according to plan, but the Mavericks got the job done in the third.
    “I didn’t always like what was going on out there,” he said. “We turned it over a lot the first two periods, and nothing gets my blood pressure going like that. But the guys were determined to stay confident and stay with the game plan.
    “We hit 80 points, which is where we were at last year. We have two games to show, statistically, we’re a better team than last year. If we can buckle down, we can try to edge our way up towards the top.”

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