Heading into overtime tied at one with the Shreveport Mudbugs, the Topeka Pilots ensured they’d pick up a point in the NAHL South Division race on the fourth place Corpus Christi IceRays.
Then, in overtime, forward Austin McCarthy took matters into his own hands to make sure the Pilots earned two points in the standings.
McCarthy scored his 11th goal of the season just 57 seconds into overtime, beating goaltender Leo Chuard and giving the Pilots a hard-fought 2-1 victory over the Mudbugs in front of 2,817 fans at George’s Pond Hirsch Coliseum.
Corpus Christi had lost on Friday evening, falling 4-1 to the Lone Star Brahmas, leaving the door wide open for the Pilots to make ground in the playoff push.
Topeka (20-25-7) outshot Shreveport 3-1 in the extra session, with two of the shots coming in quick succession off the stick of McCarthy, leading to the tally.
Making a great individual effort on the play, McCarthy took a drop pass from defenseman Max Finner in the Pilots defensive zone and skated along the left boards into the Shreveport zone.
McCarthy kept his feet moving, taking the puck behind the Mudbugs goal, before sneaking it out in front of the net for a quick backhanded shot, which was stopped by Chuard. The rebound popped right back to McCarthy’s stick, and he buried it in the back of the net, to pull the Pilots to five points out of the fourth playoff spot in the South Division.
Shreveport (24-20-9) came on strong in the third period, outshooting the Pilots 10-4 in the final 20 minutes of regulation.
Pilots goaltender McLean Dorr was solid in net, stopping 32 of 33 shots on the night, including all 10 shots on goal in the third. The Pittsburgh, Penn. native picked up his third win with Topeka, improving his record to 3-4-2 and dropping his goals against average to 3.81.
The Pilots opened the scoring early on Friday, with forward Matthew Francois netting his sixth goal of the year at 9:30 of the first. Francois took a nice behind-the-back feed from forward Hugh Quinn and flipped the puck into an open net, beating Chuard, who was out of position after the initial shot on goal from defenseman Cole Thiessen.
Despite two full Shreveport powerplays in the first period and one abbreviated powerplay, Topeka held strong, keeping the Mudbugs at bay on the man-advantage all evening.
In the second, the Mudbugs got back in it with a goal off of a rebound at 9:18. On the play, forward Ethan Harrison took the puck off of Dorr’s pads, after the preliminary shot from forward CJ McGee was stopped, and knocked it home to even the score at one.
Hoping to build off its performance Friday, Topeka returns to action at 7:11 p.m. Saturday night, facing the Mudbugs for the last time of the regular season.