CEDAR RAPIDS — How much are they going to have left in the tank? That’s your big question.
“It’s going to be tough,” Cedar Rapids RoughRiders captain Liam Walsh said Saturday night, after his club beat Tri-City, 4-2, at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena. “But I know this group has a lot in them. I know we’ll be fine.”
There is zero time for the Riders to dwell on this most impressive victory over the Anderson Cup winner for most standings points in the USHL’s regular season. They’ll board a bus early Sunday morning and travel to Green Bay for a 3:05 p.m. faceoff against the Gamblers, their third game in as many days, all in different cities.
The RoughRiders lost Friday night at Dubuque. They are 34-20-5, their 73 points tied with Youngstown for second place in the United States Hockey League’s Eastern Conference, one point behind second-place Chicago.
Sunday is a game in hand for C.R., a win jumping it over Youngstown and Chicago with two regular-season games remaining. First and second place in each division get first-round playoff byes.
“It’s just the way it is,” said RoughRiders Coach Mark Carlson. “You know what I mean? You’ve got to battle. We try and teach our guys to be mentally and physically tough all the way. It is what it is.”
Jason Polin, Will Zmolek, Jordan Tonelli and Walsh scored goals for the Riders. Polin’s short-hander put Cedar Rapids on the scoreboard first, with defenseman Zmolek’s power-play bomb late in the second period giving it a lead for good, 2-1.
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Tonelli made it a two-goal spread midway through the third, with Walsh cementing things with an empty netter with 1:24 to go.
“Just shows that if we play our game, we can compete with anybody, we can beat anybody,” Walsh said. “We’ve known that all year. We just have to do everything we can every night. The results speak for themselves.”
“Proud of the way we competed tonight,” Carlson said.
Blake Pietila was sharp in net for the Riders, making 21 saves. A turning point in this game came midway through the second period, when Cedar Rapids was able to kill off a 5-on-3 Tri-City power play for 1:14 and then a 5-on-4 the remaining 46 seconds.
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