A determined Missouri Mavericks team – that was hoping to rebound from a 5-1 home loss to Rapid City in the opening game of the Northern Conference semifinals – turned in a Sunday night performance coach Scott Hillman called “playoff hockey at its best.”

A determined Missouri Mavericks team – that was hoping to rebound from a 5-1 home loss to Rapid City in the opening game of the Northern Conference semifinals – turned in a Sunday night performance coach Scott Hillman called “playoff hockey at its best.”

Unfortunately for the 3,705 fans at the Independence Events Center, it wasn’t quite good enough to win as the Rush claimed a hard-fought 2-1 victory to take a 2-0 lead in the series.

The series resumes Wednesday night with Game 3 at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in Rapid City, S.D.

“We learned a little bit from the first game, how you have to have focus and desire for three periods to beat a great team like Rapid City,” Hillman said.

“We had focus and great desire tonight – but we continue to have problems putting the puck in the back of the net. We had outstanding goaltending tonight from Gerry Festa – you can’t ask for anymore from your goaltender – but when you only score one goal on 39 shots, you need to do something to improve your offense.”

The Mavericks’ lone goal came from Bill Vandermeer, who scored at the 14:56 mark of the second period to knot the score at 1-all.

The Mavericks forward came into the zone along the left wing, got around his defender and snuck the puck past Danny Battochio along the near side. Jeff Christian and Jordan Foreman earned assists on the play and the game remained tied after two periods.

Scott Wray’s third-period power-play goal proved to be the difference for Rapid City.

“If we keep playing hard, like we did tonight, something has to go our way eventually,” Vandermeer said. “We have to find a way to get two wins at their place to get Game 6 back at the Events Center.”

For the second straight night, the Mavericks forced the pace early in the game and earned the first two power plays. Missouri was unable to convert on either chance, but the Mavs also held Rapid City without a shot on goal for the first 8:15 of the period.

Les Reaney gave the Rush a 1-0 lead at 8:01 of the second period when he picked up a loose puck and put it past Festa. Luke Fritshaw earned the assist on the play and the Rush had the opening goal for the second straight night.

After Vandermeer tied the game, Rapid City earned a power play early in the third period and Wray broke the 1-1 tie on a partial breakaway as he lifted his shot over Festa’s shoulder.

Missouri peppered Battochio with 17 shots in the final period, but the Rush goaltender was equal to the task. Rapid City killed all three of the Mavericks power play chances in the third, and Missouri finished 0-for-7 with the man advantage.

“Zero for seven – you’re not going to win many playoff games against a team like Rapid City when you’re zero for seven on power plays,” Christian said. “We ran into a hot goaltender each of the last two nights. There’s a reason he was the Rookie of the Year in the league. He’s very good. Gerry was very good, tonight, too. We just have to rest up and get ready for that third game.”

Festa said a performance like the one he turned in against the Rush would give some pleasure during the regular season.

“In the playoffs, it’s all about winning and losing, and we didn’t win tonight so we have to work hard to find a way to win in Rapid City,” Festa said. “The boys did a great job defensively and we can take a lot of positives away from this game.

“But I’m not going to be personally satisfied until we find a way to win.”

RUSH 5, MAVERICKS 1 (SATURDAY):  For two periods Saturday, the Mavericks stood toe-to-toe with the Rush, in a hockey game that resembled a heavyweight boxing match – plenty of knockdowns, but no knockouts.

The Rush found their knockout punch in the third period, scoring four goals, to claim the 5-1 victory in front of a crowd of 5,159 Saturday night at the Events Center.

Mavericks goaltender Charlie Effinger made 38 saves on the night, but four different Rush players scored in the third period.  Jon Pelle had a pair of goals for Rapid City, including an empty-netter, and Battochio stopped 34 of 35 shots.

“Our first period might have been the best overall period we’ve played this season,” Hillman said of his Mavericks. “We had so many great scoring opportunities, though. If we could have just stolen one, who knows?”

The teams skated to a scoreless first period despite a number of chances for each squad.  Vandermeer was stopped point blank by Battochio on Missouri’s first power play in the best scoring chance of the period.

“A 1-0 lead, seconds into the game, it could have made a difference,” Hillman said, “but that is a very good team. We were so focused and so ready the first period. We weren’t quite as sharp the second period and they just dominated the third period.”

Pelle finally unlocked the scoreless tie just past the midway point of the game when he banged home a rebound at 11:11 of the second period.

Scott Wray and Brendan Cook scored for the Rush in the first 12:53 of the third period, and Brett Hammond finally scored the Mavericks’ first goal with the extra attacker at 15:04. Hammond’s goal marked his second in two games and third goal overall in the playoffs. Jeff Christian assisted on the goal.

“It’s a seven-game series, so there is no need to panic,” Hammond said.

 “They scored with a lot of traffic in front of the net. We need to find a way to put the puck in the back of the net and give Charlie some support.”

The Rush quickly answered and made it a 4-1 game on Derek Leblanc’s goal at the 15:56 mark.  Finally, Pelle scored into the empty net with 1:17 remaining to make it a 5-1 score.

“My job is to give the boys a chance to win, and I try to win every period,” Effinger said. “We did well the first two periods. I’m not happy about what happened in the third period, but we have to get ready for Sunday and not let something like that happen again.

“If it were a three-game series, we might be in trouble. I’m sure Scott will take a look at the game, figure some things out and we’ll come back strong Sunday.”