The Quad-City Storm’s season-long slog with Peoria is almost over.
There probably won’t be any fond farewells.
The Storm ended their home slate against the quickly formed rival Rivermen Friday with a 3-1 loss to Peoria at the TaxSlayer Center. The Storm play their 16th and final game of the season against Peoria tonight at the Peoria Civic Center, marking the end of a season series that was filled with fights, penalties and unfortunately for the Storm, plenty of losses.
The Storm enter tonight’s series finale 3-12-0 this season against the league’s top team. They're one of four teams in the league to beat the Rivermen three times this season, a small silver lining as they have five games left before the offseason.
"Sixteen games in a season, you're definitely going to develop a rivalry," defenseman Tyler Minx said. "We definitely just want to get it over with but win it and do better than we did this year."
Though penalty minutes never threatened the triple digits like in a few prior meetings, there was still plenty to signal the growing rivalry.
Ben Boukal and former Storm player Austin Hervey dropped the gloves late in the first period, both teams gathered in the Quad-City zone at the end of the first period, and Peoria's Jake Hamilton was given a 10-minute match penalty for attempt to injure after sucker punching Michael Casale in the second period.
"It's definitely still really chippy, and then with them being in playoffs and us being out of it they tried to take some extra shots, and as a team, we've got to have pride to defend ourselves," said Minx, who was in the center of the first-period scrum. "They were just throwing some stick shots. It happens in any game, and we were down two goals. They threw some shots, and we needed to stick up for ourselves."
Though Minx was one who didn't back down, that attitude didn't spread to the rest of the team.
"I don't know where it's OK not to have any pride. If you're competing, you should want to win, not just go through the motions and not care," head coach Dave Pszenyczny said. "We were scared, 100 percent scared. You could see it. Every time we ever got the puck, they just stopped moving their feet, worrying about someone coming to hit them.
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"It's a physical game, that's the way the game's meant to be played. Every time we've dominated that team, it's because we were physical. For some reason we don't want to be physical anymore."
Peoria got on the board in the first period thanks to some sloppy play by the Storm. Justin Greenberg took the puck off the stick of Minx, then shook off pressure from Kristaps Nimanis to score a shorthanded goal at 16:27.
Ben Oskroba gave the Rivermen a 2-0 lead 63 seconds later, firing a shot that rang off the post, bounced off the pad of Ryan Mulder and into the net.
Peoria captain Alec Hagaman put the Rivermen up 3-0 with a backhand shot that ended Ryan Mulder’s night in net for the Storm at 14:39 in the second period. Mulder made 19 saves on 22 shots before being replaced by Peter Di Salvo.
Mulder got the start after Di Salvo struggled last week in Fayetteville but Pszenyczny said Di Salvo will start tonight against Peoria.
Tommy Tsicos ended Peoria's shutout bid with a shot that changed up Peoria Rivermen goaltender Stephen Klein at 3:25 in the third period, Tsicos’ 12th goal of the season.
The Storm were outshot 36-17 in the game and never really threatened to close the gap any more.
"We need to work a lot harder. We need to do all the little things right, we can't try to skate the puck and do it all ourselves," Tsicos said. "When we get the puck, we've got to try and do the simple things, get pucks deep, be the first on pucks, finish our checks. If you do all the little things right all the time, good things usually happen."
The Storm lost forward Al Graves early in the game with a lower body injury, and Pszenyczny was uncertain as to his status moving forward.