Story by Tony Uminski
SAN ANTONIO – Should the San Antonio Rampage finish out of the playoffs once again, they can point to their lack of success in overtime games this season. For the second straight 3-2 extra session decision, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins prevailed, this time in overtime over the Rampage. Sunday, the Pittsburgh Penguins top farm team won, 3-2 in a shootout.
The Rampage are now 1-11 in games beyond regulation, including 0-8 on home ice. After winning their first game against the Penguins, in over 15 years in October, the Rampage have dropped two games to WBS in OT and one in the shootout, and all fingers point directly to number-15, Jordy Bellerive. The rookie center scored twice in regulation and the shootout winner Sunday and then posted the overtime winner Tuesday with just 33 seconds remaining in the extra five-minute session.
The Rampage just missed winning their first overtime game at the AT&T Center this season after a Jake Walman ripper was stopped by Pens goalie Casey DeSmith, with the rebound just sitting there in the crease without a Rampage stick in the vicinity. The clearout took the puck to the other end of the ice, where San Antonio netminder Ville Husso stopped Thomas Di Pauli on the odd-man rush, only to have the puck go directly to Bellerive, who put a backhander in an empty San Antonio goal.
“We’re not getting a lot of puck-luck right now,” said Rampage Head Coach Drew Bannister. “The other team seems to get a couple of bounces, but we have to work our way through it.”
The Rampage dominated the first period and led 1-0 thanks to Klim Kostin’s ninth goal of the season on a tipped shot over DeSmith at 8:58, but the offense went into hibernation in the second period, being outshot 16-4 and without a shot the final 14 minutes of the period.
“We had a real good start. We did a lot of good things offensively. The tides turned. They kinda did to us what we did to them in the first,” remarked Bannister.
Husso kept the Rampage in the game, making excellent stops throughout the period, especially on Di Pauli on a point blank tip after a crossing pass with nine minutes left in the second. Husso has struggled of late, going 1-7-4 in his last dozen games, but tonight, he was on point, until Anthony Angello tucked the puck under his right skate to tie the game at 12:19.
“Overall, I think (Husso) played really well for us. We kinda left him hanging there at the end,” said Bannister.
After Kevin Roy put the Pens on top on a freak play where the puck, going wide of the net, hit a skate and slid past the surprised Finnish goaltender, the Rampage seemed snake bit. Austin Poganski hit the post with 5:26 left, and San Antonio’s vaunted power play went 0-3 down the stretch.
Enter Nathan Walker, who sent six shots on goal without success Sunday, but with the extra skater on the ice, the Welch-Aussie nicked a Derrick Pouliot slapper from the point into the net with 63 ticks left on the clock.
“I tried to get in front of the net. Zach (Nastasiuk) and (Poganski) made a great play up to (Pouliot) there. He puts his shot in and hit my calf and went in,” said Walker of his 17th of the season and first in six games.
Both teams had excellent overtime chances with Husso and DeSmith making some impressive stops. The loss was tough to take considering the combination of Mike Vecchione and David LaLeggia’s attempt on an odd rush resulted in DeSmith holding the post with just over two minutes left.
Husso then responded with a great stop on a chance from former Rampage defenseman David Warsofsky, whose shot from the top of the crease was smothered by Ville with 1:50 left in OT.
Then came the tantalizing disc in the Penguins crease, cleared and deposited 200 feet the other way on Bellerive’s magic rebound backhander as San Antonio’s overtime woes continued.
“That’s got to get cleaned up,” said Walker. “If we miss out on the playoffs by three points, then we’re gonna be kicking ourselves that we didn’t win three overtime games. It’s gotta be cleaned up quick.”
The Rampage are also terribly inept in the shootout, going 0-5 overall, with only defenseman LaLeggia scoring on opposing goalies out of 27 chances.
“I don’t know. We could say it’s the ice. We could say this and that, but at the end of the day, I think it comes down to the same things in overtime. We need to bear down a little more. We need to realize how important those points are,” said Walker.
The lack of OT success is strange this season. Prior to this year’s struggles, the Rampage had won nine of 10 shootout attempts.
San Antonio hits the road for two games in Colorado, Friday and Saturday nights before returning for the only home game until the end of February, the annual Pink-in-the-Rink game on Jan. 31 vs. Texas. Then, it’s 10-straight games on the road while the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo takes over the building.
Rampage Rumblings – Last time the Penguins flew south to play here was Halloween, 2008, with WBS winning 3-1 behind former Rampage sharpshooter, Jeff Taffe, who scored two goals on San Antonio goaltender, Josh Tordjman that night. There were three fights, and combined 88 penalty minutes for two teams that rarely saw each other over the years. Taffe scored 20 goals for the 2006-07 Rampage on his way to scoring 463 points in 582 AHL games with Hershey, Houston, Rockford, Rochester and Hartford, as well as scoring 21 goals in 180 NHL games with Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Florida, Chicago and Minnesota. Needless to say, Taffe, who retired just last season in Europe, took advantage of his frequent flyer miles. The Rampage then fell to WBS in overtime (figures) during the Rodeo Road Trip in 2009, 4-3 as Kevin Porter scored a goal and two assists for the Rampage.