The Pilots needed two points, and they got them in dramatic fashion on Saturday night at Landon Arena.
In a game with a playoff-type atmosphere, with physical play and end-to-end action, it was Topeka who finished it off in a shootout.
In the best of three, Pilots forward Austin McCarthy scored a well-placed backhanded shot past goaltender Seth Eisele.
Pilots goaltender McLean Dorr then did his job at the other end, stopping all three shots from the Lone Star Brahmas, as the Pilots came away with a heart pounding 2-1 victory.
With the victory, the Pilots move to within one point of the Corpus Christi IceRays. Corpus Christi will play Sunday afternoon against the Amarillo Bulls, before an all-or-nothing showdown between the two clubs next weekend for the final playoff spot in the NAHL South Division.
“We play our best hockey when we’re relaxed and having fun,” Dorr said. “We all knew we needed to make a big push tonight, and it was a fantastic way to finish our last regular season home game.”
Associate head coach Justin DeMartino, who took over the head coaching reigns for the weekend in absence of Pilots head coach Simon Watson, said his team came out with a game plan on Saturday and was happy with how they executed it against a tough Brahmas team.
“Kudos to all of our special teams tonight,” DeMartino said. “After we struggled last night, we blocked shots, sprinted to pucks and kept them (Lone Star) off the stat sheet tonight while we were on the penalty kill.”
With chances abound, Lone Star broke through at 7:17 of the first period. Forward Joey Baez, netting his 14th of the season. Forward Zach Heintz and defenseman Tim Henriksson were credited with the helpers on the play.
Towards the end of the first, Lone Star forward Noah Roofe and Pilots defenseman Max Finner got the crowd going, trading punches at 17:45, with each earning five minutes for fighting.
Topeka led in shots 8-6 after one, despite trailing 1-0 on the scoreboard.
The second period had far fewer infractions with each team only penalized twice in the frame.
Dorr had an excellent frame, including several acrobatic glove saves, as each team fired 10 shots on goal.
“McLean was absolutely the MVP tonight in net,” DeMartino said.
With a late period powerplay, the Pilots evened the contest at one, with a nice redirection at 15:56. Forward Brendan Schultz was credited with the goal, deflecting a shot from forward Valdemar Ahlberg past Brahmas goaltender Seth Eisele. Finner also earned an assist on the play, his 25th of the year.
Schultz’s tally was his12th of the season.
With each team playing defensively minded, neither the Pilots nor the Brahmas could find the back of the net in the third or in overtime, leading to the shootout.
Topeka now heads into the last weekend of the regular season, as they continue the push for the playoffs. The Pilots will head to Corpus Christi April 5-6 to face the IceRays at American Bank Center, with the fourth-place spot in the NAHL South Division on the line.