Story by Tony Uminski
SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio Rampage sure know how to make a four-goal lead exciting, holding on for a 4-3 win over the Toronto Marlies Thursday night, ending a three-game losing streak.
For the first time since Nov. 2, the Rampage enjoyed a four-goal lead when Klim Kostin scored at 9:05 of the second period, but the Marlies pulled goaltender, Joseph Woll, with 3:30 left in regulation down, 4-2, and scored to keep everyone on the edge of their seats until the final buzzer.
Rampage goaltender Adam Wilcox managed to keep the Marlies off the board while his teammates rushed out to the big lead, and kept the W on the board with a key, double-save on Nic Petan when Toronto needed to tie it up.
“A team like that comes at you hard,” said Wilcox, who managed to make 18 saves before the Marlies began their comeback. “The guys did a good job weathering the storm. I thought we played a pretty good 60 minutes.”
One of the main issues for the Rampage in their recent three-game lost weekend was picking up cheap penalties right off the bat. Thursday night, it was Toronto’s turn to hit the penalty box before Rampage fans grabbed that first handful of popcorn and defenseman Jake Walman made the Marlies pay just 42 seconds into the game and five seconds into the power play.
“It was a good faceoff, we worked together to get the puck,” said Walman, who just off a recent visit to the parent St. Louis Blues and his first NHL game. “Just fired it on the net and tried to get an opportunity right away and somehow find its way in.”
The shot zinged by Woll’s glove into the top left corner of the net as Ryan Olsen won the draw and Kostin, in his first-star performance, added an assist.
Less than five minutes later, Mike Vechionne made his 18th goal of the season one for the highlight reel. Snagging a zipper of a pass from Derrick Pouliot at the red line, the Boston area-native stickhandled through three Marlie defenders, took a clear path to the goal and beat Woll between the pads for a 2-0 lead. The picture-perfect goal, Vechionne’s second goal in as many games, just maybe the spark that the former Union College sharpshooter needs to make his scoring slump a thing of the past.
Speaking of slumps, Cam Darcy bent the twine for the first time since Nov. 12 when he swept down the left-wing, angled in and beat Woll with a quick wrister over the stick hand at 6:52 of the second period. Nolan Stevens and newcomer on the backline, Les Lancaster picked up assists.
“We were keeping it simple, making the plays when they were there and it ended up just working out for us,” said Darcy in his fourth game from an extended injury timeout. Darcy’s goal, a prime example of the ‘play being there’ added, “(Steven’s) just chipped it right to me, sent me on a neat breakaway there. It was a good look by him.”
The Rampage controlled the offensive zone just three minutes later, extending puck control and keeping the Marlies chasing the puck when defenseman Mitch Reinke’s shot from the blue line was tipped in the slot by Kostin and caught Woll going to his left when the puck tracked to his right for the 4-0 edge at 9:05.
The Marlies, just two years out of winning the AHL’s Calder Cup, responded by finally beating Wilcox at 16:18 of the middle session when Scott Pooley deflected the puck on the power play on the Marlies 19th shot.
Petan got the third deflection goal of the night with a nifty redirection to the top right-hand corner over Wilcox’ stick to make it 4-2 at 10:19 of the third and also get the fans edgy. “A really good skilled tip there,” said Wilcox.
Toronto pulled Woll with 3:30 left and Wilcox made a nice double save on Petan on the doorstep, getting the first shot and then the rebound with his left pad. But the extra skater strategy paid off when Kenny Agostino scored on a wrap-around with 1:54 remaining to cut the lead to 4-3. “Weird bounce on that third goal. Might have wrapped it and it hit off Joey’s (LaLeggia) skate or something, but came out (Walker) had a big block, they played hard, stuck to the structure and ended up with a really big win for us.”
Despite the win, Rampage head coach Drew Bannister was not convinced the team is out of the woods.
“It’s been a challenge for us here the last week or so at home,” he said. “It was nice to finally get a result that was on our side. Try to build on it going forward. Our biggest challenge has been our defensive habits. I thought they were better here tonight, but we still have a ways to go. There are some holes to a plugin in our game. We just have to chip away at that. Clean up our game a little bit.”
The Rampage now take on Eastern Conference Wilkes-Barrie/Scranton, the Pittsburgh Penguins AHL affiliate who are making their first Texas trip in a decade Saturday night and again on Tuesday night. Overall, the Rampage are 2-3-1-2-1 against the AHL Penguins, including a 5-3 win on Oct. 25 in Pennsylvania, where San Antonio “pulled a Marlie” with better results, scoring the game’s final four goals for the win. The Rampage then followed up that win, which included a three-point performance by Nathan Walker, with a 5-4 overtime loss. Mike Vecchione’s two-goals brought the Rampage back from a 3-2 deficit, only to have the Pens score later in the third period and then 1:44 in the extra session.
By the way, the Rampage did beat Iowa, 5-1 on Dec. 4, but that four-goal spread wasn’t accomplished until the final minute on an empty-net goal.