RAPID CITY, SD – Mikhail Stefanovich led the way with a second hat-trick in a row as the Rapid City Rush defeated the Quad City Mallards by a 5-2 score Friday night.
The matchup was the first of the season between the two rivals, and the first matchup since Game 7 of last year’s opening round of the ECHL’s Kelly Cup Playoffs.
Both teams edited the scoreboard in the period, but none of the two goals scored were done in five-on-five hockey. With seven second remaining in a five-on-three power play, the Mallards drew first blood as Matt Carey sent a one-timer by Rush netminder Danny Battochio that gave the Mallards a 1-0 lead 7:49 into the first. Guillaume Gelinas and Vladimir Nikiforov received the assists.
In the waning moments of the frame, the Rush tied it thanks to work down-low in the offensive zone by one of their hottest scorers. In the midst of four-on-four hockey, Mikhail Stefanovich forced a turnover and danced in the low slot, patiently waiting to strike. He found his moment and the five-hole of Mallards goaltender Brody Hoffman and evened the score at 1-1 with 2:28 remaining in the first (the goal was unassisted).
Stefanovich picked up from where he left off at the start of the second, giving the Rush their first lead of the game at 2-1 as he beat Hoffman for a second time in the game just 65 seconds into the frame. Brett Kostolansky and Taylor Doherty recorded the assists.
Quad City fired back later in the frame, equalizing things while killing a Rush power play. Shorthanded, Mike Monfredo skied the puck to Sam Warning, who finished his shorthanded breakaway and beat Battochio up high to tie the game at 2-2 (Monfredo got the lone assist) with 10:37 left in the frame.
That was as close as the Mallards would keep it as the Rush pulled away with another tally from Stefanovich. The Minsk, Belarus native finished his third hat-trick of the season, and second in as many games, as he buried a cross-ice pass from Daniel Barczuk that zipped by Hoffman to give the Rush a 3-2 lead with 2:06 left in the middle stanza. Barczuk and Brian O’Rourke recorded the assists.
James Melindy, celebrating his 22nd birthday, lit the lamp to separate the Rush further from the Mallards, finishing a coast-to-coast run to double the Rush lead to 4-2 with just 5:21 gone by in the final period. Spencer Pommells rounded out the scoring entries with his seventh goal of the season, firing the puck into an empty Mallards net with 1.2 seconds left to bring the game to its concluding score of 5-2. Kale Kerbashian garnered the lone assist.
Battochio, starting for the first time since November 27, stopped 29 of 31 shots en route to his seventh win of the year (7-3-1).
The same two teams will meet again tonight at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.