In a battle for the final playoff spot in the NCDC Mountain Division, the Pueblo Bulls knocked off the Idaho Falls Spud Kings in a 3-2 bout Friday night.

With the win, the Bulls now occupy fourth place in the division. The two teams will have a rematch Saturday night.

The game

Scoring on the powerplay has been a struggle all season long for the Spud Kings. When facing the team with the best powerplay record in the division, that problem becomes evident.

The difference Friday night was one powerplay goal, which came at the hands of William Johnson with six minutes left in the first period. Johnson, a left-handed shot, found the puck on his stick in the right-side faceoff circle with the man advantage. He made no mistake roofing it over the shoulder of Tucker Inabinet to put his team up 1-0.

“We kinda came out flat-footed at the start,” said Spud Kings defenseman DJ MacLeish. “As the game went on, probably second or third period, we got better.”

Liam Filip tied it up three and a half minutes into the second, deflecting a point shot past Beau Altman. It would only remain tied, however, for three minutes, as Thomas Soucy potted the puck on a cross-slot feed from Hunter Hayes.

Liam Filip scored the Spud Kings’ first goal of the game on a deflection in the second period.

Liam Filip scored the Spud Kings’ first goal of the game on a deflection in the second period. Photo credit: Brogan Houston

Hayes added to the Bulls’ lead with six minutes left in the third period, making it 3-1 and extending his personal goal streak against the Spud Kings to five games. The Spud Kings’ struggling powerplay failed to convert soon after, ultimately forcing them to pull their goalie with just under three minutes to go.

With the net empty and a playoff spot on the line, Owen Pitters threw a shot on net. A battle ensued for possession of the rebounded puck. After multiple shots by the Spud Kings and multiple clearing attempts by the Bulls, Easton Edwards found the back of the net, making it 3-2 with 1:46 left.

The Spud Kings would pull the goalie again, but a shot off the post kept them from sending it to overtime, handing them the loss.

Saturday’s game plan

Both MacLeish and head coach John Becanic solemnly declared after the game that their plan would not change heading into Saturday’s game.

“We have never changed our game plan, no matter who we’ve played,” Becanic said. “You will win more games than you lose when you play the right way.”

DJ MacLeish said after the game that the Idaho Falls Spud Kings would not change their game plan for the second contest in a back-to-back series against the Pueblo Bulls.

DJ MacLeish said after the game that the Idaho Falls Spud Kings would not change their game plan for the second contest in a back-to-back series against the Pueblo Bulls. Photo credit: Brogan Houston

Playing “the right way” led the Spud Kings to a six-game winning streak early in Becanic’s tenure as coach, but they’ve dropped their last three contests. Becanic said the difference now is that they can no longer sneak up on teams — everyone expects them to put up a good fight.

Where to watch

Saturday’s game at Mountain America Center starts at 7:05 p.m. Tickets, if available, can be purchased on the Spud Kings’ website and at the Bingham Healthcare Box Office at the arena.

The game will also be streamed on FloHockey.TV, available with a subscription.