Minor League Sports

Cedar Rapids RoughRiders on the brink after a 3-1 loss to Chicago in Game 3

Riders need a win Tuesday to even USHL playoff series and remain alive

CEDAR RAPIDS — Down, sick, hurt but not out. Not yet.

The Cedar Rapids RoughRiders have zero margin for error at this point. That much is certain after a 3-1 loss Tuesday night to the Chicago Steel in Game 3 of this United States Hockey League second-round playoff series.

Chicago now has a 2-1 edge in the series, with a chance to close things Wednesday night at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena. The Riders still only need a measly old two-game win streak to pull this thing out, but ...

They’re down, sick, hurt, etc.

“We need to understand the opportunity we have and find a way to get the job done,” said RoughRiders Coach Mark Carlson. “To me, it’s that simple. It’s really hard to win in the playoffs.”

Christian Sarlo and Uula Ruikka had goals just a minute and 31 seconds apart early in the first period, as Chicago played with the lead virtually the entire way. Aidan McDonough got the RoughRiders back into it with his fourth playoff goal just 38 seconds into the second, but Cedar Rapids could never get all the way back.

A deft deflection goal from the awesomely named Gunnarwolf Fontaine 1:28 into the third period pretty much put things away for the Steel.

“We needed a better start, I think,” said RoughRiders defenseman Will Zmolek. “We kind of picked it up in the second period, but our start wasn’t the greatest.”

Cedar Rapids finally got center Nathan Smith back for this game. The team’s leading point getter in the regular season missed the first two games of this series with a bad case of the stomach flu.

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Unfortunately, that’s going around the locker room right now. Assistant coach Ben Kinne missed the game because of it, with assistant Dustin Timm taking over behind the bench coaching the defensemen.

Leading goal scorer Jason Polin missed the last part of the second period and all of the third with an unspecified injury. Winger Chase Hamstad crashed into the Chicago net on a power move in the third and had to be helped off the ice.

When Carlson asked who would be available to play Wednesday, he said he did not know.

“It’s obviously a battle,” Zmolek said. “We’ve been through it all year. But we’ve got guys on this team who can really step up and help us win. It’s just unfortunate that it’s happening this time of year.”

Cedar Rapids actually outshot Chicago by a scant 25-23 margin. Justin Robbins won the goaltending battle over C.R.’s Blake Pietila, though he did not have to make nearly as many high-quality saves.

“I thought we had some good parts tonight,” Carlson said. “We’ve got to make sure we have everybody going for the whole game. But there were definitely some positives. Our penalty kill was good again, we played with some real good momentum there in the second. We’ve just got to keep plugging.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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