When Nate Widman scored an empty-net goal for the Kansas City Mavericks Wednesday, it gave his team a 4-2 lead over the ECHL Mountain Division-leading Idaho Steelheads.
“Hockey is a 60-minute game,” Mavericks coach John-Scott Dickson said, “and that was never more evident than tonight.”
Widman scored with just 55 seconds left in the game, but the Steelheads’ Charlie Dodero slapped the puck past Mason McDonald with 12 seconds left to account for the final 4-3 score at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena.
The Mavericks improved to 28-21-3-1 overall and improved to 21-8-1-0 at home to remain in fourth place in the division, a solid eight points ahead of Rapid City for the final playoff spot (the top four teams in each division advance to postseason play).
“When Wid scored that empty-netter, it’s like, ‘Great job, boys, playing 4-on-6 (because of a Corey Durocher holding penalty and the Steelheads pulling goalie Tomas Sholl with 2:05 left) – and it turns out to be the game-winner,” Dickson said.
“This was just a great 60 minutes of hockey against one of the better teams in the league. I am so happy with the way we played tonight. It was as close to 60 minutes of solid hockey as we have played all season – and we have to take advantage of all our home games because we don’t have that many left on the schedule.”
The Mavericks have just five regular-season home games left at SEC Arena, including 7:05 p.m. Friday and Saturday contests against the Steelheads. They finish the season with 10 of their last 11 and 13 of their last 17 on the road.
“We haven’t played as well on the road as we have at home, so this series is very important,” said Widman, who also assisted on Durocher’s goal late in the third period – a goal most thought would be the game-winner.
Widman shot wide of the net and the puck rebounded to Durocher, who was perfectly positioned to slip the puck past Sholl at the 15:20 mark of the third period.
“I was purposely shooting wide, and it was great that it rebounded to Corey,” said Widman, who finished with a goal and an assist along with Greg Betzold. “You’re hoping that’s how it ends up, but there is some luck involved, too.”
There was no luck involved with McDonald, who continues to star in the net for the Mavericks, He stopped 31 of 34 shots and improved to 17-5-1-1.
He set the defensive tone early when he stopped a breakaway attempt by A.J. White just 1:56 into the first period.
“When you see a save like that, it fires everyone up,” said Betzold, who later threw himself in front of a shot during a penalty kill. “You want to do everything you can to help your goalie when he’s playing like Mase played tonight.”
McDonald, who was walking with Betzold to a post-game autograph session, smiled and nodded in agreement.
“Our guys are throwing their teeth and faces in front of pucks to stop them, and that inspires me, makes me want to play even better – do everything I can to help us win,” said McDonald, who along with Beltzold drew a rousing ovation when they met the fans. “We played great hockey tonight for 60 minutes against the No. 1 team in our division. This was a big win, but every win and every game is big from here on out.”
The Mavericks grabbed the lead in the first period when Betzold, who has scored in three consecutive games, scored on assists from Joey Sides and Brett Beauvais.
The Steelheads tied the game on a goal from Reid Petryk with 8:59 left in the first period. The Mavericks narrowly outshot Idaho in the period, 12-11.
David Dziurzynski broke the stalemate in the second period with just over five minutes to go in the period. It was his first goal since Feb. 1. Willie Raskob extended his point’s streak to five games with an assist, and Rocco Carzo added his 30th assist of the year.
Idaho tied it at 5:09 of the third period on an unassisted goal by Alexander Dahl.
That set the stage for Durocher’s go-ahead goal and Widman’s game-winner.
The teams resume action Friday and Saturday at 7:05 p.m. each day to finish off the three-game set.