How’s that for a meaningless game?
Despite nothing to play for, the Quad-City Storm and Evansville Thunderbolts entertained all night, with the Storm grabbing a 5-4 shootout win Friday night at the TaxSlayer Center.
The Thunderbolts led 4-2 before a fight between Michael Casale and Lenny Caglianone. After Casale took Caglianone to the ice, the Storm forward looked toward his bench to try and fire up his teammates, while Caglianone left the ice to get medical attention.
"A lot of people ask why are you fighting when the playoffs are over?" Casale said. "I'm willing to put my life on the line for these guys any day, I don't care if we're in playoffs or not, that's just the way I am. That's my heart, I can't explain it. That's how I was brought up, that's how I was taught the game and that's all I know.
"I don't take shifts off because I wouldn't be able to sleep at night."
The fight worked as the Storm rallied back to tie the game with goals from John Scully and Phil Bronner in the final 10 minutes. Dean Yakura scored the only goal in the shootout while the Thunderbolts couldn't score against Ryan Mulder.
"I think a lot of it is just pride. We didn't really play the way we know we can play in the first two periods," Mulder said. "We didn't play the game we had hoped to play, and I think that's where pride kicked in. We came in the locker room after the second period and said, 'Hey, we've got to do something, especially for these fans. We're out of the playoffs, and they're still showing up.'"
After a scoreless but back-and-forth first period, the Thunderbolts got on the board just 47 seconds into the second period when a shot from Joseph Mizzi ricocheted off Mulder’s right pad and into the back of the net.
Colin Clapton doubled the lead at 2:14, firing a shot that ricocheted off a Storm player and into the net for his first professional goal after wrapping up a career at Division III Salve Regina University.
"As a goalie, you know your job's just to stop the next puck," said Mulder, who made 31 saves. "Bad bounces happen, it's part of the game, and by now, I think I've learned that and I tried to keep battling."
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Stephen Gaul put the Storm on the board at 7:28, jumping on a loose puck that rebounded out to the slot after a blast from Cody Walsh hit off the end boards. It was Walsh’s first point since Feb. 17 as the Storm defenseman had been on injured reserve since March 3. Despite playing in just 37 games this year, Walsh has a career-high 17 points this season.
Scott Donahue put the Thunderbolts back up by two goals, skating past Storm defenseman Kristaps Nimanis to set up a shot that beat Mulder high over the glove side at 16:06 in the period. Shayne Morrissey added another goal 55 seconds later, getting behind the defense to receive a backdoor pass from Mizzi.
The Storm quickly responded as Dalton Mills fired a laser from just above the face-off circle to cut the lead to 4-2 at 17:53 in the second period.
Scully cut the lead to 4-3 with his team-leading 14th goal of the season at 12:20 in the third period. Jarrett Pfeiffer, who helped lead Indiana Tech to an NAIHA national championship, recorded an assist for his first career point.
Phil Bronner tied the game at 14:44, redirecting a shot from Tyler Minx past Braeden Ostepchuk for his fourth goal of the season.
"I had a handful of guys still making the same mistakes, not finishing checks, and that's something you can easily do," head coach Dave Pszenyczny said. "Mulds standing in there in the shootout, I was so proud because at one point I was thinking maybe (about pulling him), but I decided to let him stick it out and he proved me right."
The Storm placed forward Al Graves on season-ending injured reserve after Graves suffered a lower body injury on March 22 against the Peoria Rivermen. Graves scored six goals and added six assists, both SPHL career highs for the fourth-year pro.
The two teams wrap up the regular season tonight at the TaxSlayer Center.