A special night by Omaha’s special teams Friday powered the Lancers to a 4-1 United States Hockey League victory over Bloomington.
Two power-play goals and a third when the Lancers were a man down gave the Omaha offense the kind of spark needed to continue the march toward a berth in the Western Conference playoffs.
Prior to Friday’s game, the Lancers had played just four of their 35 games against foes from the Eastern Conference. With Friday’s win, the Lancers are 3-1 against Eastern opponents.
The game, played before a Ralston Arena crowd of 3,010, was the first of six straight against Eastern Conference opponents. Omaha is scheduled to close the regular season with 15 of their 24 games against non-Western Conference squads.
If the Lancers (19-14-3) play more complete games like they did Friday, coach Brian Kaufman would be happy with that.
“I thought we were disciplined and did a good job all the way around tonight,” Kaufman said. “Our whole group did the job they needed to do.”
Goalie Zackarias Skog and the defensemen helping protect the Omaha net, nearly pitching the team’s third shutout of the season. The forwards kept consistent pressure on the Thunder defense. And the special teams — Kaufman couldn’t say enough good things about those units.
“The power play came up big and the penalty killing was huge for us,” Kaufman said. “That’s a very good hockey team we played.”
Omaha scored first on a power-play goal late in the first period. Mitch Perrault moved the puck down the goal line to Matt Meier, who quickly dished it to Austin Alger waiting between the hash marks. The Miami (Ohio) recruit got the puck under the legs of Bloomington goaltender Hayden Lavigne for his eight goal of the season.
Following a scoreless second period that included a couple of big breaks for Omaha that kept Bloomington off the scoreboard, the Lancers got what proved to be the winning goal just 11 seconds into the third period.
Right defenseman Johan Steen created a chance off the opening faceoff as Lavigne made the initial save. The puck was briefly left untouched just outside the crease before center Nathan Krusko got to it and sent a rebound shot home off Lavigne’s left leg pad for his 11th goal of the season.
Omaha made it 3-0 with a short-handed goal by JC MacLean. He got the puck on a faceoff won by Josh French after MacLean had received a high stick. MacLean tapped the puck in at 6:28 for his fourth goal of the season.
Omaha missed out on getting the shutout when Bloomington center Alec Mehr scored 61 seconds later. It was a shot through traffic from the top of the right wing circle that sailed by Skog.
The Lancers got their final goal with 1:24 remaining while on a 5-on-3 power play. French took the puck at the top of the right wing circle and sent a pass to Nick Rivera. Rivera then spun around and lifted a shot over Lavigne’s left shoulder for his team-leading 16th goal of the seaon.
Skog stopped 25 of the 26 shots sent his way, and Perrault blocked one shot as he guarded the goal line behind Skog early in the second period.
The teams will play the final game of their two-game set Saturday at 7:05 p.m. at Ralston Arena.
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