MOLINE, IL – Even with an “x” beside their name in the standings, there was still much to play for Saturday night in the regular-season finale for the Quad City Mallards. A win would vault them into the seventh seed in the Western Conference and set up a date with the Fort Wayne Komets, while a loss meant a trip next weekend to Independence, MO and series with the Missouri Mavericks.
The night was also bittersweet for Mallards fans, as it was captain Darren McMillan’s last regular season game. The first 1000 fans through the doors were given commemorative McMillan bobble heads for the event. The captain was then given with a framed Mallards sweater, while his wife Erica was given a bouquet of flowers. The two were joined on the ice before the game by their two sons Paxton and KJ.
Cincinnati got off to a quick start, with Jack Downing opening the scoring just under six minutes into the game. PJ Musico attempted the save, but the rebound was hammered home by Downing while Musico was sprawled one the ice.
Jonathan Diaby then put the Cyclones up 2-0 roughly two minutes later with help from Garrett Noonan and Tommy Mele. The puck was shot from Musico’s right side and hit the post on his left before ricocheting into the net. The Cyclones then capitalized on the powerplay caused by Brady Brassart’s cross-checking minor to set the Mallards down 3-0. Noonan scored that goal, assisted by Andrew Yogan and Zach Budish.
Through the first period, the Mallards’ passes rarely connected between each other, and often connected with the stick of a visitor. The Mallards appeared to be a much different team on Saturday than in their decisive 6-3 victory the night before.
Jordan Knackstedt ended Andy Iles’ shut-out at 2:53 of the middle frame, sending home a rebound created by Olivier Archambault and Sam Warning. Iles had laid on the ice while making the save on Archambault’s shot, leading to a gaping net for Knackstedt to fire into. Cincinnati didn’t let the Mallards celebrate the goal for long, however.
Budish scored again with help from Downing less than a minute after Knackstedt’s goal, leading to Coach Terry Ruskowski pulling PJ Musico in favor of Brody Hoffman. The goals that Cincinnati scored could have been credited with assists by lagging Mallards defense, as the defensive corps would repeatedly pass the puck in front of the crease and then allow the puck to be stolen by an opposing player who would then take a shot on goal.
Trevor Cox scored his first professional goal almost exactly halfway through the game, the captain McMillan and Knackstedt assisting. Cox would then assist on Matt Carey’s goal three minutes later. Carey’s goal could be partly attributed to Alex Gudbranson’s behind-the-play actions, though the scoresheet is unable to reflect that. Gudbranson and an opposing player jostled in the corner at the 13 minute mark of the second period, Gudbranson’s helmet being knocked off. Gudbranson then shoved the other player several times, causing the fans to cheer in excitement at finally seeing some more physicality from a team that appeared to be lacking it. While Gudbranson began to skate off the ice, Carey slipped the puck past Iles to put the Mallards down by only one goal.
The Mallards were unable to finish the comeback, having dug a hole in the first period too deep for them to escape from.
The Mallards will travel to Missouri for the first two games of a best-of-seven series. Games one & two will be played Saturday night at 7:05pm and Sunday afternoon at 4:05pm. The Mallards will host Missouri for games three and four on April 20 and 22; game five will be on April 23 if necessary.