For much of the game Friday night, the Topeka Pilots and Shreveport Mudbugs were caught in a goaltending dual between Jakub Dobes and Maiszon Balboa.
But in the final half of the third period, the breakthrough finally came, with the Pilots beating Balboa with a powerplay goal from forward Shawn Kennedy.
With physicality and tensions high, this set up a tense finish between the two NAHL South Division teams.
After a late powerplay was awarded to Shreveport, the Mudbugs pulled Balboa in favor of another attacker, giving them a 6-on-4 advantage.
The Pilots were up for the challenge, stealing the puck out of the neutral zone. Defenseman Luke Salem was able to loft the puck down the ice into the empty net, adding an insurance goal.
This stood to the final whistle, with the Pilots knocking off the Mudbugs 2-0 at the Stormont Vail Events Center.
Dobes was solid in goal all night, including the final minute of the third, where he was tested by Shreveport, stopping all 29 shots he faced on the evening.
With the shutout, Dobes improves to 6-2-0 on the season, as Pilots are now 9-3-1 on the season.
“It was a hard-fought game between two talented teams,” Pilots head coach Simon Watson said. “Shreveport’s a team that is built to play a defensive and gritty game. That was a big powerplay goal there in the third.”
Kennedy’s goal came at 12:28 of the third, after a nice feed from forward Austin McCarthy set him up in the slot. Kennedy’s shot beat Balboa blocker side, to put the Pilots up 1-0.
Animosity was high at the end of the second and third periods, with both teams trading pushes and shoves, setting up an exciting showdown Saturday night.
“We willed our way to the win tonight,” Watson said. “We knew this series would be a battle.”
Both teams had chances in the first and second periods, prior to Kennedy’s breakthrough goal in the third, but neither team could find the back of the net. Shots on goal for the evening ended at 29-26, in favor of the Mudbugs.
The two teams finish their two-game series at 7:05 p.m. Saturday night at Landon Arena. It will be Black Out Cancer night, with fans encouraged to wear black. There will be a specialty jersey auction immediately following the game, as well as a late-skate with the Pilots.