Sundogs Drop Heartbreaker to Bees, Remain One Point Back of Final Playoff Spot
PRESCOTT VALLEY, Ariz. - Looking to climb back into the South's fifth and final playoff spot, the Arizona Sundogs dropped a heartbreaker to the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees Friday night, falling 5-4.
Each team collected quality scoring chances in the first period of play Friday night but the early difference would prove to be a Rio Grande Valley transition as a bench minor served by Jesse Bennefield came to a close midway through the frame. Rather than sending the puck the length of the ice, the Killer Bees cleared the puck to the far neutral zone half boards as Bennefield was exiting the penalty box. The fourth-year pro skated in with pressure from behind before slipping the puck beneath Marco Emond and into the back of the net for his 30th of the year. Topher Scott and Grant Goeckner-Zoeller assisted on the goal at the 10:10 mark, helping their club to a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes of action Friday. Shots were 11-7 in favor of the visiting Bees in the period.
MacLean's 12th of the year 3:52 into the second period pulled Arizona even at 1-1. While shorthanded, MacLean collected an outlet pass from defenseman Jon Landry before gaining the offensive zone and firing a wrist shot from the near circle over the shoulder of Wylie Rogers. Rio Grande Valley reclaimed a one-goal lead just over five minutes later as Goeckner-Zoeller recorded his second point with his team's first man-advantage tally of the contest. Emond made an initial save through traffic but the puck worked its way loose to Goeckner-Zoeller on the far post. Arizona matched Rio Grande Valley's play, tying the game at two 49 seconds later with their first power-play marker of the night. With Rogers out of position after a flurry of saves, rookie forward Peter Cartwright found Kyle Hood alone at the top of the goal crease for the easy goal. Landry notched his second helper of the period on the play. Controlling the pace of play late in the second, Arizona forced its first lead of the game with 1:22 showing on the clock. Under pressure below the Killer Bees' end line, Adam Perry circled to the near side of the goal before sending a centering feed to Tyler Liebel in the slot for his second goal in as many games since returning from injury. Bennefield, however, responded 38 seconds later with his second of the game, an unassisted effort, to send the game into the second intermission knotted at three goals apiece. Shots were nearly even in the middle frame, with Rio Grande Valley holding a slight 13-12 advantage.
On a controversial call five seconds shy of the third period's halfway mark, Zak McClellan was credited with his tenth goal of the season, giving his club a 4-3 lead. McClelland found the cross bar with a shot from outside the top of the circles. Emond fell back on the puck but referee Mark Lemelin ruled the puck crossed the goal line. Despite the ruling, Arizona managed to even the score at 4-4 less than two minutes later as Lemelin awarded a penalty shot to the home club after a Rio Grande Valley player covered the puck in the goal crease. Hood made good on the attempt for his second of the game, beating Rogers stick side with a forehand effort. Bennefield completed the hat trick effort with 6:02 to play in regulation immediately after an offensive zone faceoff. Goeckner-Zoeller won the puck drop forward before dropping a pass to Bennefield who one-timed the setup feed past Emond for his club's fourth one-goal lead of the game. With Emond pulled in favor of an extra skater inside the final minute of play, Arizona looked to have forced overtime with a late equalizer but Lemelin waived off the goal, ruling a hand pass voided the goal.
Emond (16-17-3) directed 28 of 33 shots clear of the net in the loss while Rogers won his second-straight with 27 saves on 31 shots. Arizona finished 1-for-9 with the man-advantage while Rio Grande Valley converted on 1-of-6 power play chances. The Killer Bees outshot the Sundogs 33-31 in the contest.
Despite the loss, Arizona (24-30-4) remains just one point back of Corpus Christi for the Southern Conference's fifth and final playoff spot. With a 5-1 win Friday, the New Mexico Scorpions, a club the Sundogs face four times to close out the regular season, sit just two points back of Arizona.
The Sundogs and Killer Bees close out their regular season series tomorrow night at Tim's Toyota Center at 7:05pm. Tickets start at just $14 and are available by phone at 1-866-4-GET-TIX (1-866-443-8849), online at www.gettix.net and in person at the Tim's Toyota Center Box Office.
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