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It was easy to predict that this series would end up going 6 or 7 games (as I did in this series preview post). These are two teams that are extremely similar and evenly matched. After 4 games, the series could not have been more even. Each team had won 2, and had each scored 9 goals. All 4 games had been decided by 1 goal. Over the four games, the Mallards had 104 shots on goal, and the Rush had 102.
A weird trend that continued is that the team that scored first had only won 1 of those four games. This is very odd because during the regular season in the ECHL, the team that scored first won 75% of the time on average (stat courtesy of @allenamericans1). This trend in these Mallards vs Rush games goes back to the regular season, where the team that scored first also lost 3 out of their last 4 meetings.
Game 5 bucked a lot of these trends. Kevin Baker opened the scoring on a really nice pass from Matt Neal about 6 minutes into the game. Baker also got a power play goal early in the 2nd period, and added an assist on a goal by Mario Lamoureux 8 minutes later. This was a breakout game for Baker, who had only had 1 assist in the first 4 games of the series. Despite scoring first, the Mallards did go on to win (I guess it can work sometimes). This was also the first game all series decided by more than 1 goal.
Coach Terry Ruskowski’s fingerprints are all over this series now. His decision to start Evan Mosher in net in game 1 seemed like a gamble to some, I questioned it myself. Mosher has been excellent and has all 3 Mallards wins in this series. He stopped all 31 Rush shots in game 5 to get the shutout. Before the series, I never would have guessed the Mallards to be up 3-2 without Milner registering a win.
Ruskowski benched Jeff Lee in game 4 and brought him back for game 5, while choosing to sit both enforcers Paxton Leroux and Anthony Collins. This seemed like another interesting choice, but it worked. Lee came back and had a much better game. He kept his game simple, physical and error free. He had 1 assist and was +1. He can be a valuable player if he continues playing like this.
In games 4 and 5 the Mallards seemed to try some different things on offense than we had seen in the previous games, and it worked. These are the things that happen in video sessions and practices off the ice that we don’t really see, and probably don’t give enough credit. But there is little doubt that the offense created many more good chances in games 4 and 5 than in the previous games.
Ruskowski has indicated that he is going to start Mosher in game 6, and have Milner ready for a possible game 7. They also need to be prepared because the Rush are a very good and well-coached team. I expect they will also make some adjustments. Whatever happens this has been a great series for fans of playoff hockey.