Playing in just their sixth professional games, Idaho Steelheads goalie Jerry Kuhn and winger Tyson Hobbins led the Steelheads to a 3-1 victory in Game Three of their first round playoff series against the Las Vegas Wranglers. The victory gave Idaho a two games to one lead in the best of five series that moved to Qwest Arena Friday night after the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas hosted the first two games on Tuesday and Wednesday.
After making 48 saves in the 1-0 double overtime loss in Game One and recording 44 saves in the Steelheads 3-2 triple overtime victory in Game Two, Kuhn made 27 saves Friday to record his second career playoff victory. The 24 year old netminder joined the Steelheads two weeks ago after his four year Western Michigan career came to an end in a double overtime defeat to the University of Denver Pioneers in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Kuhn played in three regular season games for Idaho at the end of the season going 2-1-0 with a 1.79 goals against average and a 0.924 save percentage.
The 24 year old Hobbins, playing in just his second playoff game, picked a memorable moment to score his first professional goal. The winger, who recently finished his four year career at Lake Superior State, notched the game winner Friday at 7:27 of the third period. Hobbins failed to register a point in his four regular season games he played for Idaho at the end of the season but made enough of an impression on Head Coach Hardy Sauter to earn a roster spot for the Kelly Cup Playoffs.
After Kuhn and Wranglers goalie Michael Ouzas combined for 161 saves in the first two games of the series, Game Three saw Las Vegas score on its first shot of the game and Idaho return the favor on just their third shot.
Las Vegas scored first at 2:25 of the opening period as Wranglers Blair Riley and Blake Gallagher’s 2 on 1 break was finished with Riley netting his second goal of the playoffs off a cross ice pass from Gallagher that Kuhn had no shot at saving.
As has been the case the entire series Idaho didn’t let Las Vegas keep their lead for very long. Just over three minutes after the Riley goal, Steelheads forward Mark Derlago took a pass from Game Two hero, defenseman Dustin Friesen, and raced up the left wing and let a shot go that was blocked and sent back to Delago’s stick. Derlago found defenseman Tyler Ludwig coming in from the right point and gave the rookie defenseman a pass that Ludwig drove into the back of the half open net for his first of the playoffs at 5:36.
Both teams applied a good amount of offensive pressure for the remainder of the period however Kuhn and Ouzas kept the back of their nets empty and yet another period ended with the two teams deadlocked.
Defense and penalty killing was the name of the game in the second period. Idaho managed to kill three minor penalties in the second and Las Vegas killed two of their own and neither team allowed a goal during a two minute 4 on 4. Kuhn and Ouzas added one more scoreless period to their ever growing lists and the two teams went to the third still tied at a goal apiece.
The defensive play continued in the third with both teams managing just eight shots apiece. Thankfully for the Steelheads Kuhn made eight saves while Ouzas made just six. Idaho’s first lead of the series and the eventual game winner came after Kael Mouillierat did some nice work behind the net controlling the puck and getting a backhand on Ouzas that the goaltender moved behind the net and onto the stick of Derlago who fed a pass to Friesen at the point. Friesen fired a slap shot that Ouzas went down to save and redirected onto the waiting stick of Hobbins who pulled the puck across the crease and backhanded a shot over the outstretched right pad of Ouzas into the back of the net.
Idaho played very defensively after gaining the lead as they dumped the puck in the offensive zone and sent just one forward in to pressure the defense while leaving four players back to play defense. Las Vegas wasn’t able to mount much of an attack as they were turned away at the blue line time and again. Las Vegas had a difficult time controlling the puck long enough to replace Ouzas for the extra attacker late in the period but did manage to make the change with just 1:18 remaining on the clock. After getting the puck into their offensive zone the Idaho defense forced a turnover that forward Evan Barlow managed to get out of the zone and across the red line and direct the puck into the empty net as he crossed into the offensive zone.
Barlow’s first of the playoffs at 19:03 iced the game for the Steelheads and sent the home crowd of 3,251 home happy and ready for Game Four back at Qwest Arena at 7:05 on Saturday evening. If Idaho wins Game Four they will head to Anchorage to take on the Alaska Aces in the Conference Semi-Final which will be a best of seven series. Should Las Vegas prevail on Saturday the series will head back to Las Vegas for a deciding Game Five to be played on Tuesday April 12