Joe Van Antwerp (24) battles for the puck with Zane Popilock on Friday in Amarillo. Topeka lost Game 1, 8-6. (PHOTO: Michael Norris, Amarillo Globe-News)
No one expected that two teams with a reputation for solid defense and quality goaltending would combine for 14 goals in Game 1 of the South Division Finals, but when the dust settled on Friday night, it was the Amarillo Bulls who had posted an 8-6 come from behind victory and a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series over the Topeka RoadRunners.
Amarillo opened the scoring when a shot from the left point was redirected by Mike Erickson at 6:56. Less than a minute later, Topeka answered back when Ben Bahe snapped home a quick shot at 7:39. The 'Runners took the lead at 10:42 when Kyle Sharkey tipped a Sean Gaffney backhander past goalie Mike Taffe. The 'Runners added to their lead on Ben Bahe's second goal of the period at 12:38 on a beautiful passing play with Kyle Sharkey and Topeka held a 3-1 lead after one period. Bahe's goal led to a goalie change for Amarillo, with Gregg Gruehl coming on in relief after Taffe had allowed 3 goals on 5 shots.
The second period started with Topeka adding to their lead, first with Brian Christie blistering a slapshot over the glove of Gruehl at 5:33, assisted by Kyle Sharkey who had a hand in each of the 'Runners first four goals. Less than a minute later, Jake Lynes tucked in his 4th of the playoffs on the short side after muscling his way down the left wing, assisted by Chris Bond. With a 5-1 lead, Topeka forced Amarillo to switch goalies again, and Gruehl returned to the bench. The first 30 minutes of the game were dominated by the RoadRunners, but then the pendulum swung the other direction. Greg Gibson scored for Amarillo at 10:53 on a play where goalie Peter Traber had his stick knocked away as players jockeyed for position in the low slot, making it a 5-2 game. When Ryan Cole squeaked a shot through Traber at 15:26 to make it 5-3, the 'Runners spent their time out to refocus. However, just :25 seconds later, a costly double minor penalty to Sean Gaffney for high sticking gave the Bulls the edge they needed. A power play goal at 16:56 by T.J. Sarcona, left wide open on the back door and fed beautifully by Karl Beckman made it 5-4, and the comeback was complete on the second half of the double minor at 18:01 when Mike Erickson tipped a point shot over Traber's glove to knot the game at 5-5. For good measure, Amarillo pumped in their 5th unanswered goal and fourth in the span of 3:41 when Brooks Behling punched home a one timer on a 2-on-1 rush at 19:07, and the reawakened Amarillo Civic Center roared as the Bulls took a 6-5 lead into the locker room after trailing 5-1 midway through the frame.
In the third period, Topeka tied the game at 1:40 when Ben Bahe fired home his third of the game. The goal was allowed to stand though it appeared the net was off a peg at the time. The Bulls retook the lead with what proved to be the game winning goal at 3:30 when Ryan Taylor's power play shot trickled through Traber to make it a 7-6 Bulls lead. Amarillo was credited with an emptynet goal at the buzzer for the final 8-6 margin.
Topeka and Amarillo will square off in Game 2 of the series Saturday night at 7:05. The series shifts to Topeka for Game 3 on Thursday, and Game 4 if necessary on Friday.