Pilots sweep Ice Wolves with 5-1 victory

Another strong effort in net led the Topeka Pilots to a big victory Saturday night in New Mexico. 

Pilots goaltender Guy Blessing stopped 38 of 39 shots, five different Pilots scored a goal, and Topeka (31-13-4) swept a weekend series in Albuquerque against the New Mexico Ice Wolves, with a 5-1 victory at the Outpost Ice Arena. 

The victory keeps the Pilots in third place in the NAHL South Division, as the Shreveport Mudbugs fell on Saturday to the Amarillo Bulls. Topeka now has 66 points on the season, with fourth-place Shreveport at 62 points. 

The Pilots jumped out to a 3-0 lead with two tallies in the first and one early in the second. 

After New Mexico (12-31-5) responded with a goal midway through the second, Topeka came right back with a big goal just a minute later to push the lead to 4-1. 

Then, late in the third, forward Austin McCarthy added another for good measure, his 16th tally of the season. 

Forward Connor Zilisch opened the scoring with his 15th of the year at 8:55 of the first, taking a great feed from forward Michael Muschitiello and beating goaltender Henrik Laursen on a breakaway. 

Defenseman Matt Clark notched his sixth of the season at 14:49 of the first to make it 2-0. While 4-on-4, Clark skated in and beat Laursen from the left faceoff circle. 

After a feed from forward Matthew Francois, Pilots forward Nick Nardecchia picked up his second goal of the weekend at 7:40 of the second, extending the lead to 3-0. 

After the Ice Wolves cut it to 3-1 at 11:19, forward Lucas Sandoval put it right back at a three-goal lead, with a goal at 12:28 firing in a rebound after Laursen saved the initial shot. 

The Pilots entered the third period with a 5-on-3 powerplay, but they could not take advantage, leaving the score 4-1. Topeka ended the night 1-for-2 on the powerplay. 

McCarthy’s goal was a one-timer, beating Laursen on a powerplay goal in the final minute. 

The Pilots now head into a pivotal match up with the NAHL South Division leading Amarillo Bulls on Feb. 28-29 at the Budweiser Bull Pen. Puck drop is set for 7:05 p.m. CST in both contests.