The Evansville Thunderbolts entered the holiday break as one of the hottest teams in the Southern Professional Hockey League.
The Quad-City Storm couldn't cool them off coming out of the break.
After an even first two periods, the Thunderbolts scored the final two goals of the game to grab a 3-1 win Friday at the TaxSlayer Center.
It's the eighth win in the last nine games for the Thunderbolts, a run that started with a win over the Storm on Nov. 29.
"We knew they're the hottest team in the league right now, they've strung together a bunch of wins now," defenseman Junior Harris said. "Coming out of the Christmas break, we skated once and that was (Friday) morning but no excuses, they did the same thing ... the third, we let our foot off the gas for three, four minutes."
One slip up from the Storm unknotted the score as Evansville jumped on a pass to spring a 3-on-2 rush and Austin Plevy beat Storm goaltender Peter Di Salvo for the game-winning goal at the 7-minute, 21-second mark of the third period.
"We've still got some work to do, obviously," defenseman Cody Walsh said. "I felt like the boys did pretty well in the first period and then it kind of fell apart a little bit. The biggest thing is controlling what we can control ... we've got to take what's in front of us, not take it for granted and play a full 60."
Plevy assisted on the final goal, hitting Demico Hannoun for his second goal of the game at 11:31. The Storm thought that Harris took a stick to the face prior to the goal but no penalty was called.
"It's frustrating, obviously because you work so hard all game and a split second like that, I guess the ref obviously didn't see it with there only being one ref out there," Harris said. "It kind of cost us the game ... we've just got to move past it and come back ready to go."
You have free articles remaining.
That wasn't the only call the fans at the arena disputed as Shane Bennett was sent to the box for unsportsmanlike conduct at 14:39 in the third period despite appearing to take another stick to the neck area.
However, head coach Dave Pszenyczny didn't feel much need to complain.
"I didn't think we deserved them, to be honest," Pszenyczny said. "I don't think we played with any heart, played with any passion, we just kind of went through the motions there."
Late in the second period, Hannoun fired a shot from the right side that clanged in off the iron to put the Thunderbolts up 1-0 at 14:43.
The Storm answered right back as a pass from Jon Buttitta found Vincent Beaudry in the slot, who fired a shot past Evansville goaltender Braeden Ostepchuk at 15:29 to tie the game. Ostepchuck made 35 saves for the Thunderbolts. Di Salvo finished with 29 saves on the night.
The Storm signed Buttitta from the Mentor Ice Breakers of the Federal Prospects Hockey League prior to the game. Buttitta, 27, is in his rookie season and in 20 games has scored 18 goals and added 20 assists. His goals and 38 points rank second in the FPHL this season.
Buttitta, a Middleburg Heights, Ohio native, also played eight games with the Ice Breakers last season, scoring six goals and adding six assists after finishing up his college career at Kent State University. In five seasons with the Golden Flashes, Buttitta played in 175 games, scoring 121 goals and adding 150 assists for 271 total points.
Buttitta's assist on Beaudry's goal was his first career SPHL point.
"I was a little nervous at first but once I got my feet wet, I just got into a rhythm, got into a groove with the guys," Buttitta said. "Once we tied it 1-1, I thought for sure we were going to come back and get more points but we'll have to do it tomorrow and bounce back from this."
Shortly after Beaudry's goal, Quad-City's Ryan Devine dropped the gloves with Evansville's Zane Jones, the first penalties of the night and a fight the newly acquired Storm enforcer easily won, firing up the crowd, though that momentum didn't carry over into the final period.
The two teams meet again tonight at the TaxSlayer Center.