Costly penalties proved to be the difference Friday night for the Topeka Pilots.
Topeka (22-27-8) played a solid 5-on-5 game, but gave up four powerplay goals on nine chances, falling 6-2 to the Lone Star Brahmas.
Topeka remains three points out of the final NAHL South Division playoff spot.
“Tonight was a gut check for our team,” Pilots associate head coach Justin DeMartino said. “We’ve got to be willing to get to those tough areas and block shots, especially on the penalty kill.”
The Pilots came out of the gate ready for action on Friday night, but penalties cost Topeka in the first period.
After two successful penalty kills by the Pilots, the third time wasn’t so lucky.
Following a penalty for slashing on Pilots forward Christian Thomas at 15:57 of the first, Lone Star took advantage.
Defenseman Blake Evennou netted the opening tally of the game at 16:24, blistering a one-timer from the blue line past Pilots goaltender McLean Dorr.
The lead stood to the first intermission, with the Brahmas holding the slim 1-0 advantage. Shots on goal favored Lone Star at 13-7.
Evennou doubled the Brahmas’ lead with a second powerplay marker at 5:36 of the second period, again blasting a one-timer past Dorr.
With the score still holding at 2-0, Pilots defenseman Cole Thiessen got fans off their feet and Topeka back in it at 16:54 of the second.
The Aurora, Ontario native found himself some space in the slot after a frenzied offensive possession. Wristing the shot past goaltender Seth Eisele, the Pilots was back in the game, down only 2-1.
Another costly penalty, however, put the Pilots on an uphill climb heading into the third.
Following a slashing infraction on forward Kaiden Scott, Evennou found alone at blue line. Receiving a slick pass from defenseman Scott Persson, Evennou completed the hat trick, beating Dorr low on the glove side, making it 3-1 Brahmas at second intermission.
The Brahmas extended the lead to 4-1 and then to 5-1 with tallies at 3:54 and 8:08 of the third period.
Pilots forward Brendan Schultz cut the lead to 5-2, beating Eisele with a shot that squeaked over the goal line at 8:50 of the third.
Lone Star added a final tally at 18:48, with forward Clayton Lackey netting his fourth of the season.
The Pilots will be back in action at 7:05 p.m. Saturday night at Landon Arena, in the final regular season home game of the 2018-2019 season. All tickets will be $10, with $2 popcorn, beer and soda all night.