For 9 minutes of their 4-3 victory over the Tulsa Oilers, it appeared it would be another lost Saturday night for the Quad-City Mallards.
They had started their contest with the Oilers about as badly as possible, giving up three goals on just five shots, causing coach Terry Ruskowski to yank goaltender Jimmy Spratt in favor of normal starter John Murray.
The switch became the catalyst that ignited the Mallards. Pressed into action for the fourth straight game, Murray was brilliant with 26 saves, and Patrik Levesque stepped up with a pair of goals to swing the momentum. After a tough start, Q-C found its legs, scoring four consecutive goals to upend the Oilers at i wireless Center for its first Saturday victory of the season.
“I felt sorry for Jimmy Spratt,” Ruskowski said. “Those goals really weren’t his fault, but I had to change the momentum of the game somehow. He’s starting (today), but it was one of those things that happened to him.”
The Mallards (6-5-3) claimed the two points after surviving a wild first period that saw the teams take turns dominating the game. Although the Oilers (6-9-2) did not force the issue very often, they were effective when they did, finding open space in the Mallards’ zone for forward Ryan Menei, who had two of Tulsa’s three first-period goals.
That forced Ruskowski’s hand, and as Murray stepped off the bench with his team down 3-0, the Mallards realized that the move was aimed to get their attention.
“We all apologized to (Spratt),” Levesque said. “We didn’t support him. It was three bad goals from us, and we’ve got to be better (today) and get a win for him. But it was a momentum change.”
With that realization, the Mallards immediately began to climb back into the contest. Their comeback would have started even sooner than it had if not for an official’s mistake.
Less than a minute after Menei’s second goal, the Mallards found a hole in the Oilers’ zone and buried a shot in the center of the net, seemingly getting them back in the game. But the shot bounced off the mesh and back into play, wiping out the goal and prompting boos from the Mallards’ faithful.
The disgust was temporary. A minute later, Mike Stinziani broke free from the Oilers’ defense for a breakaway goal that gave the Mallards the spark they needed. From that point on, the Mallards used Tulsa’s transition game against them and created several quality scoring chances.
“We had talked about that before the game,” Murray said. “It just took a little bit of seeing it for us to finally step in and start using what we talked about before the game.”
When Brett Robinson hammered home a rebound in the second period, the Mallards had completed their comeback, one night after a similar effort in Wichita had fallen short. However, Levesque warned that the Mallards could not continue their slow starts.
“We’ve got to get started the same way,” Levesque said. “It won’t always happen that we can come back like that. If we start playing the way we can when they drop the puck, we’ll be a good team.”