The Topeka RoadRunners opened the scoring but Wichita Falls rebounded to claim a 3-1 win in Game 1 of the South Division Finals Friday night.
The RoadRunners scored first when Quinn Preston forced a turnover at the Wildcat blue line, then dished it to a streaking Sami Tavernier, who slid it to his left for Andrew Hart. Hart unloaded a heavy snapshot high on the glove side and at 13:05, Topeka led 1-0. The following shift, however, the ‘Cats held an attempted Topeka zone clear and Austin Albrecht found the puck in the slot. He spun, flinging the puck toward the net and it slipped in, tying the game just :24 seconds after Topeka had taken a lead. The period ended with the score tied at 1-1.
The Wildcats have enjoyed great success on the power play against Topeka this season, and the ‘Runners did a great job of staying out of the penalty box. The only penalty incurred by the ‘Runners came at 18:59 of the second period, and they killed it off as the penalty kill spilled over into the third period with the game still tied 1-1.
Wichita Falls took a 2-1 lead with 6:18 left in the game as a soft Jonathan Lazarus shot from the top of the right circle eluded Juho Niku to give the ‘Cats their first lead of the night. Erich Jaegar gave them some breathing room with 4:07 remaining, as Nikita Litviak set him up on the doorstep after winning a puck battle behind the net. Topeka would pull Niku for the extra attacker and generated chances but were unable to close the gap as Wichita Falls held on for the 3-1 win.
The RoadRunners and Wildcats square off in Game 2 on Saturday night. Game 3 is Monday in Topeka, and if necessary, Game 4 will be played Tuesday, also in Topeka.