The Quad-City Mallards have made their push towards another playoff berth this season through team depth.
Depth in scoring — with seven players having scored at least 14 goals — has helped the team endure call-ups and injuries that might have derailed other teams.
But Friday night, with the game on the line in the closing minutes, it was the team's defense that won the game.
The Mallards withstood an onslaught in the final three minutes, blocking shots, taking hits and making plays, to hold onto a 3-2 win over the Missouri Mavericks.
"It's a great effort, a gutsy effort there at the end," head coach Phil Axtell said. "They were coming hard, a few blocked shots, a bunch of good sticks, kept poised."
The Mallards' magic number is now five points, needing a combination of five points earned or five points lost by the Tulsa Oilers to clinch their fifth straight postseason berth. The Mallards also have a four-point lead over the Kalamazoo Wings for third place in the Central Division, with two games in hand over the Wings.
The Mallards host the Mavericks again tonight at 7:05 p.m.
The Mallards' poise helped them overcome a rare miscue from goaltender Adam Vay late in the third period. Up 3-1, Vay went to play the puck behind his net, but, pressured by Rocco Carzo, lost the puck to Eric Scheid, who fired into a wide open net at the 16-minute, 25-second mark to set up a tense finish.
The team was up to the task.
"It was awesome for us," forward Nolan LaPorte said. "At the ends of games there, when you're counting on those guys getting pucks out for you, especially the last couple weeks, they've been bearing down for us and making first passes, getting it up for us."
The line combination of Nolan LaPorte, Chris Francis and Michael Parks was effective, with Parks scoring the game's first goal just 1:37 in. Brady Brassart made the game 2-0 before Conner Bleackley cut the deficit in half with a power-play goal just before the end of the first period.
LaPorte netted the game-winner at 15:08 in the second period, taking a smooth pass from Francis and burying with a solid move of his own in the slot.
"It was an awesome look, I didn't even yell for it and he saw me. It was crazy on his part to be able to see a guy directly behind you, a good play," LaPorte said. "You get lucky sometimes."
The trio all had two-point nights, and Parks was also key in setting up the game-winning goal.
"The play would have never happened without Michael, winning the board battle there and getting it down to me," Francis said. "You have to give him credit and I just saw (LaPorte) out of the corner of my eye and just laid it there. He made a nice move and it was a great finish. I think the last couple of games we've had a couple of highlight-reel goals, our line, which is nice to see."
Mallards sign Sooth: The Quad-City Mallards signed forward Shane Sooth to a standard player contract Friday prior to the game.
Sooth, 24, joins the Mallards after serving as team captain at Northern Michigan University in each of the last two seasons. The 6-foot-1, 221-pound Canyon Country, California native scored five goals and added five assists in 19 games this past season. In 130 collegiate games, Sooth scored 21 goals and added 40 assists. Sooth also helped the Dubuque Fighting Saints to two USHL titles in three years and skated with the U.S. National Team Development Program Under-18 team.
Sooth played sparingly in Friday's game, but also had some chances throughout.
"When players are consistently on winning teams ... being successful in juniors, being a captain, having a letter on his chest four of the last six years, that goes a long ways," Axtell said. "Once we get his legs going again, hopefully he can contribute."
Kitts honored: Prior to the game, the Mallards honored equipment manager Drew Kitts, who worked his 1,000th career game last Saturday in Wheeling. Kitts was named the ECHL’s equipment manager of the year after last season and has been with the Mallards since 2009 after two years with the AHL's Quad-City Flames.