With chances abound for the Topeka Pilots and Odessa Jackalopes in the third period of Friday night’s matchup, it seemed inevitable one of the two teams would find the game-winner in regulation.
Ultimately, it was Odessa (21-32-2) who found the deciding tally, with just under three minutes to play in regulation and while on the powerplay.
Tied at two apiece, a shot from the blue line was redirected by forward Joseph Winkelmann and beat Pilots goaltender McLean Dorr at 17:01 of the third, giving the Jackalopes their first lead of the game at 3-2.
The Pilots led 2-0 before three unanswered powerplay goals from the Jackalopes brought them back.
The initial shot on Winkelmann’s game-winning goal came off the stick of defenseman Kellen Tharaldson, as Winkelmann’s redirection squeaked the puck past Dorr’s outstretched pads.
With still several minutes to play, Pilots coach Simon Watson then opted to pull Dorr in favor of the extra attacker, but the Pilots could not find the equalizing tally on Jackalopes goaltender Kade Phipps, as they fell 3-2 at Ector County Coliseum.
The loss leaves Topeka (21-26-8) three points out of the fourth place slot in the NAHL South Division playoff race, with the Corpus Christi IceRays also falling on Friday, as they were downed 4-2 by the Shreveport Mudbugs.
Topeka’s usually solid penalty kill struggled overall on Friday night, with Odessa going 3-for-4 on the man-advantage.
After a scoreless first, the Pilots opened the scoring early in the second period. Forward Quinn Green netted his 23rd tally of the season at 1:11, racing in on a breakaway and beating Phipps five-hole for a 1-0 lead.
Forward Valdemar Ahlberg doubled the Topeka lead at 6:29 of the period, beating Phipps on the backhand, for a 2-0 lead. Ahlberg fended off Phipps’ poke-check attempt on the play and tucked the puck behind him, earning him his 14th goal of the season, with 10 of his markers coming since joining the Pilots.
Odessa cut the lead to 2-1 minutes player, with forward Vilho Saariluoma scoring on the powerplay at 7:43 of the second period.
The Pilots 2-1 lead stood until Odessa evened it up at 4:04 of the third, with Jackalopes defenseman and team captain Connor Fedorek tying the game at two, with a one-timer from the blue line eluding Dorr.
The Pilots held a 36-34 shots on goal advantage in Friday’s contest, with the teams combining for 29 shots in the third period.
Topeka will look to win the three-game series on Saturday night, as they will be back in action at 7:11 p.m. at the Ector County Coliseum.