02/11/2012 8:26 PM -
Falling behind after Josh Gray's goal just 97 seconds into the game, the Rhinos rallied, scoring four unanswered goals to take a 4-1 lead in the second period.
Kyle Stephens broke through for El Paso at 10:37 of the first, followed by John Morales' unassisted wrap-around goal at 17:30.
Brendan Gust finished the period with a power play goal at 19:10.
When Eric Miller scored a second straight goal with the man advantage at 13:17 of the second frame, the Rhinos had to feel comfortable with a 4-1 lead over a team that had lost a little composure, taking some bad penalties against the top power play unit in the league.
El Paso leads the Western States Hockey League, scoring on over 27 percent of their power play opportunities.
Credit the Brahmas, though. The hosts bore down and scored two goals against the Rhinos just 2:05 apart in the second period.
Jaren Jones scored on a deflection that El Paso goaltender, Vincent DiCarlo, could do nothing with. Jones goal at 14:40 was followed by a beautiful top-shelf strike from Brahmas' team captain, Connor Tamai, at 16:45, and Texas skated into the locker rooms in the second intermission feeling good about the game, trailing by just a goal, 4-3.
The momentum would only last 16 seconds into the third, though, as Trey Hughes lifted one off of the glove of Brahmas netminder, Zane Sampson. Sampson thought he had the puck cleanly in his glove, but didn't. The puck ricocheted off the glove and into the goal to give the visitors a 5-3 lead.
Defenseman Gunner Bjorklund put his shorthanded breakaway past Sampson at 7:59 to finish the scoring. El Paso is now tied with the Brahmas atop the league with 14 shorthanded goals this season.
After losing to Texas, 3-2, in overtime in a game that finished close to 2 a.m. Saturday morning local time, El Paso's win Saturday afternoon sets up the rubber match between the teams Sunday morning at 10:30 a.m. MST.
The Rhinos (30-7-2, 62 points) open up a 10-point lead on the idle Dallas Ice Jets (24-9-4, 52 points) atop the Mid-West Conference as El Paso seeks to win its sixth straight regular season conference title and home-ice advantage in the Thorne Cup Playoffs.
The Brahmas' (23-12-1, 47 points) win Friday night puts them just five points away from the Ice Jets for second place and home ice advantage in the first round of conference playoffs.
The Rhinos and Texas will battle next weekend in El Paso, as well -- a key series in the conference race. For tickets and information, contact the Rhinos' front office at 915/479.PUCK (7825) or go to www.elpasorhinos.com. =