After dropping Game 1 at home, the Topeka RoadRunners asserted themselves, winning the next three games to advance to the NAHL South Division Finals for the third consecutive year.
The first twenty minutes of Saturday\’s Game 4 the Springfield Jr. Blues were clearly anything but \”mailing it in\” as they battled with an intensity that had not been readily evident in Games 2 and 3. They managed to score first as Randy Cure\’s power play shot from the blue line found it\’s way in past Evan Karambelas at 15:05 and the Jr. Blues led 1-0 after 1.
In the second stanza the RoadRunners were whistled behind the proverbial eight-ball, spending 6 min 30 seconds of the first ten minutes on the penalty kill, 1:36 of which spread over two separate 5-on-3 situations. Topeka\’s volatile penalty kill (responsible for 4 shorthanded goals in the final 5 games of the season and 12 SHG on the year) responded not only by killing off each shorthanded situation in the second period, but also generating the game tying goal, netted by Tony Thomas and assisted by Jacob Poe and Bryce Johnson on a picture perfect passing play at 1:13. Once order was somewhat restored after the penalty parade subsided, Cole Schneider fired a shot from the left wing that hit Springfield goalie Andrew Martin high on the shoulder, popped up and dropped in behind him at 11:54 for a 2-1 Topeka lead that held through to the end of the frame.
After nearly 45 minutes of hard fought playoff hockey yielded just 3 goals, the teams erupted to bury three more between them in just :51 seconds. The first, a hard, crisp wrist shot by Cole Schneider at 4:54 gave Topeka a 3-1 edge, only to see the Jr. Blues answer back :26 seconds later as Mike Schaber tapped in a wraparound attempt that was initially deflected by Karambelas. Re-energized and back with a goal, Springfield\’s fans were still celebrating when Cole Schneider scored his third of the night for the hat trick just :25 seconds after Schaber\’s tally. Topeka\’s lead was 4-2, and was still intact heading into the final 2 minutes of play. Springfield pulled Andrew Martin for the extra attacker with 1:34 left, and a minute later, Kevin O\’Donnell was able to knock in a Nick Curry centering pass from behind the net through a lot of traffic to close the gap to 4-3. With both teams already having spent their time outs, the ensuing play resulted in the puck being fired into Topeka\’s zone, allowing Martin to hit the bench once again but the resulting scramble was weathered by the \’Runners defense and Topeka was able to close out the series with a 4-3 win.
Topeka will now face St. Louis in a highly anticipated rematch of last seasons South Division Finals. Topeka finished the season two points ahead of the Bandits, and 4-4-1 head to head. Game 1 is Thursday April 15, and Game 2 is Friday April 16 at Landon Arena in the Kansas Expocentre. The remainder of the series schedule will be announced and posted Monday, April 12. Tickets are available at the Expocentre Box Office, and group tickets are also available by calling the RoadRunners Office at 785-286-PUCK (7825).