I don’t know if you can look much at the regular season games between the Rush and Mallards to get a feel for how this series might go. Most of the games were back in mid-January or earlier. In those games the Mallards were 6-2-1. But the Rush are a different team now than they were early in the season. The Rush were the hottest team in the division at times in the second half. So it probably makes more sense to just look at the last four games of this series. All four were played recently in Rapid City and were split:
- March 20 – Mallards 01, Rush 3: Joe Perry opened scoring with a shorthanded goal, but the Rush scored a goal in each period to take this game. Milner made 29 saves.
- March 21 – Mallards 1, Rush 3: A similar game to the previous night. This time Anthony Collins scored on a power play to open scoring. Minutes later the Rush scored two quick goals to take the lead. They added a goal in the 3rd period. Mosher made 26 saves.
- April 3 – Mallards 2, Rush 1 (SO): Nick Grasso scored the only goal for the Mallards in regulation and Milner stopped 32 shots and 3 of 4 shots he faced in the shootout. Grasso also had the game-winner in the shootout.
- April 4 – Mallards 3, Rush 2: The Mallards were outshot 32-22. Kostolansky opened scoring early in the first. The Mallards tied it late in the first and took the lead halfway through the second on goals by Perry and Neal. The Rush tied it early in the third before Coldwell scored the game-winner 13 minutes into the third period.
I don’t like to make predictions about who will or lose. But I bet we see similar games to the ones above. Low scoring, physical games between two defensive-minded teams with good goalies. In other words: playoff hockey! Not much of a prediction, but I see these two teams as extremely evenly matched. The games above indicate that. It could go either way.
The biggest wild card I see in this series for the Mallards is Logan Nelson. It sounds like he will be back for the playoffs. How Coach Ruskowski uses him probably depends on how well he plays. If he’s rusty he may end up on the 3rd or 4th line. If he plays really well, then it could cause a shake up of the top two lines.
Why is this a big deal? If Nelson is back, this will be the first time that the Mallards have had both Joe Perry and Logan Nelson in the same lineup since January 30th! That is a stretch of 32 games. Perry and Nelson were the Mallards’ top two scoring threats the first half of the season. Perry was called up to the AHL and then got hurt. He got healthy and sent back down right when Nelson got hurt. Nelson hasn’t played since. Kevin Baker has emerged as the top scoring threat here late in the season, but early in the season it was Nelson and Perry who led the team in scoring. If Nelson provides a legit scoring threat behind Baker and Perry, it could boost the Mallards’ playoff chances.