Though it resulted in a loss, Friday's game could be the turning point in the season for the Quad-City Mallards.
The team went toe-to-toe with the Mountain Division-leading Wichita Thunder before Mark MacMillan's goal 37 seconds into overtime gave the Thunder a 3-2 win at the TaxSlayer Center.
The Mallards outplayed the Thunder for long stretches of the game and outshot Wichita 36-34.
"I think that was probably one of the best games the team's had. When everybody's playing the right way, things open up like that," forward Josh MacDonald said. "We knew coming in Wichita was a good team so we were going to have to come out, use our speed and get pucks behind their defensemen and that created offensive chances for us.
"Unfortunately we didn't get as many breaks as we wanted, the opportunities were there but we just couldn't capitalize."
MacDonald scored the game's first goal, netting a backhand shot past Wichita goaltender Joel Rumpel at 13:43 in the first period. It’s MacDonald’s first goal since Oct. 28, snapping an eight-game scoreless streak.
MacDonald had other chances throughout the game but did notch an assist by finding Alexander Kuqali from behind the net for a power play goal at 5:57 in the second period to put the Mallards up 2-1.
For Kuqali, it’s his first goal as a Mallard and first since making his pro debut with the Florida Everblades on March 30, 2016.
"Just more excited about our power play, we were able to get some chances there, and finally one went in," Kuqali said. "We've been really close but unfortunately haven't been able to convert as much as we'd like to. Hopefully it's starting to trend (up)."
Wichita's two regulation goals came on extended shifts in the Quad-City defensive zone. The first came in the first period when a shot trickled just out of the grasp of Mallards goaltender C.J. Motte, giving MacMillan a look at the net, and the other came midway through the second period from Istvan Sofron on a delayed penalty.
Motte made 31 saves in his first game with the team since Oct. 18 after spending a month in the AHL with the Chicago Wolves.
"A couple missed box outs in front of the nets for their first and second one," head coach Phil Axtell said. "C.J. had a great game. I wouldn't by any means say the first two, any of them were his fault. He stood on his head for us. He had his head in the game."
Now the Mallards embark on a nine-game road trip, looking for some success after dropping their first three games of the season away from the TaxSlayer Center.
Despite Friday's loss, confidence is high for the team.
"It just shows you've got to trust the process if we play for each other and use the systems that you're taught," Kuqali said. "I thought the guys showed a lot of character tonight. A lot of good plays, a lot of smart plays and a lot of heart. If we can take that to them again tomorrow, I think we can come away with two points."