CEDAR RAPIDS — When you’re fighting to get into the playoffs, it’s difficult to squander an opportunity like this one.
The Cedar Rapids RoughRiders took a lead into the third period Wednesday night, appearing headed toward picking up two big standings points and inching closer to that magic sixth spot in the United States Hockey League’s Eastern Conference.
Then it all went away. Josh Dunne’s goal with 4:47 left capped a rally that gave the Green Bay Gamblers a 4-3 win at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena.
Instead of closing within two of sixth-place Chicago, the Riders remain four points back with 11 regular-season games remaining. The Steel lost Wednesday night and also have 11 games left.
This was a tough one to take.
“I thought we had chances,” said Riders Coach Mark Carlson. “I just think we need to learn more about killer instinct. We did a lot of things well. We just need to be better in all areas.”
Cedar Rapids (19-23-7, 45 points) was coming off a great weekend in which it beat Green Bay and Waterloo. But any momentum from that went away here.
Defenseman Ryan Verrier tied the game for Green Bay (25-18-5, 55 points) with a seeing-eye shot from the left point that went through traffic and past what appeared to be a screened C.R. goalie Blake Pietila. With the RoughRiders on their heels, defenseman Andy Carroll then took a left point shot that Pietila made a pad save on, with the rebound going directly to Dunne, who had an open net in which to shoot.
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“We kept saying on the bench to stay on offense, keep on the attack,” said RoughRiders winger Roman Ahcan. “I feel like we tried to play too much defense instead of staying on the attack.”
Ahcan had two of the Riders’ goals, including a short-handed beauty 3:21 into the second period that gave his club a 3-2 edge. He deked Green Bay goalie Maskim Zhukov down and out and fired from a sharp angle into an open net.
Marek Valach had C.R.’s other goal, his team-leading 18th, but he left the game with an apparent hand injury late in the third.
“We need to stick with our systems, stick with each other through a full game,” Ahcan said. The RoughRiders hit the road for a pair of weekend games at Muskegon. Carlson remained a bastion of positivity, despite the tough loss.
“To me, it’s nothing about disappointment,” he said. “I don’t live on that planet, don’t know where that planet is. We have an opportunity to play a hockey game Friday, so that’s what we’ll do. We’re in the hunt.”
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