01/31/2010 2:25 AM
Austin Balko continued a blistering weekend notching the game-winner for the second straight night, as El Paso beat Tulsa for the fifth time in five consecutive games, 4-3, in shootout.
Balko, the team's all-time leading goal-scorer, followed up a hat trick Friday night with his fourth of the weekend Saturday.
The Rhinos, already champions of the Mid-West Division, earned their 40th win against just five losses for 80 points.
The Rampage earn a point in the shootout loss, but are still eight points out of second place in a battle with Boulder for home ice advantage in the first round of the WSHL playoffs. Tulsa can still claim the spot, but has not been able to make any headway in El Paso.
The Rampage have to wonder what it will take to get past their nemesis, losing by a goal in each of the three games played in Tulsa last weekend, including two shootouts won by Nick Gualano. The Rhinos scored twice in 24 seconds with just over a minute left in the game Friday night to turn a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 win. And again Saturday night, with a full two points hanging in the balance, the Rampage were stoned by El Paso goalie Andrew Duff in all five of their shootout attempts.
Balko scored the only goal in the shootout for either team, beating otherwise stellar Tulsa netminder Michael Maczynski to the stick side, under his right arm.
Again, Tulsa is left to deal with the disappointment of losing leads against the division champs, as Tom Whetsel's goal just 26 seconds into the game was answered by the Rhinos' Anthony Knuth, who dragged a Rampage defender in close to beat Maczynski top shelf at 7:39 of the first.
El Paso scored twice in the second period to take a 3-1 advantage, as Trevor Erickson simply outskated the Tulsa defense on a short-handed breakaway at 5:24, followed by Navarone Copley's power play goal at 9:32.
The Rampage countered with a rally of their own, getting goals from Michael Criscuolo and Brandon Kirchens to tie the game after 40 minutes.
Neither team could find the net through the rest of the game until Balko and Duff gave the hosts the win in shootout.
The two sides play their final games of the regular season against each other Sunday afternoon at 5:30 p.m. MST. For tickets and information, contact the Rhinos' front office at 915/479.PUCK (7825) or go to www.elpasorhinos.com.