Wednesday was bittersweet for the Idaho Falls Spud Kings, who inched one point closer to the playoffs with their shootout loss, but also left one point on the table.

Though the Provo Predators’ playoff position is already set in stone, you would have thought it was do-or-die watching them play. Both the Predators and the Spud Kings played tight defense, checked hard and blocked shots — typical of playoff hockey, rather than regular season hockey.

Can’t buy goals

The game’s first goal came 26 seconds into the third period as Predators defenseman Vit Beran picked up a rebound in the corner and threw it on net before Spud Kings goalie Tucker Inabinet had a chance to get set.

Halfway through the third, with his team on the power play and realizing that the referee was calling another penalty on the Predators, Spud Kings defenseman DJ MacLeish intentionally gave up the puck so that his team would get more time with the two-man advantage — a high-IQ play.

It took 10 seconds for MacLeish to put the puck past Michael Polston on the powerplay, tying the game at one.

DJ MacLeish scored the equalizing goal and added a shootout goal in the Idaho Falls Spud Kings’ 2-1 loss to the Provo Predators.

DJ MacLeish scored the equalizing goal and added a shootout goal in the Idaho Falls Spud Kings’ 2-1 loss to the Provo Predators. Photo credit: Will Vasseur

Extra innings

In overtime, Predators forward Owen Ames took a tripping penalty. Less than a minute later, Tyler Johnson took a roughing penalty. The roar at Mountain America Center was deafening as the crowd realized that the Spuds would have another two-man advantage — until the linesman escorted Sacha Trudel to the box for slashing on the same play.

Despite recording a number of shots with the one-man advantage, the Spud Kings couldn’t solve Polston.

MacLeish scored for the Spud Kings in the fourth round of the shootout, giving his team hope for victory. Jonatan Raatikainen, however, had other plans, beating Inabinet to keep the game going. A couple shots later, Ryan Roethke would score to win it for the Predators.

Little victories

Despite the loss, Spud Kings head coach John Becanic had nothing but praise for his squad.

“This might be the most proud I was of the team this year,” Becanic said. “They’re playing under tremendous pressure, knowing that every shift is a do-or-die.”

Becanic cited his team’s solid defensive play and excellent offensive efforts as things that put them in a position to succeed.

“We’re not an offensive team, but we still put up 42 shots,” he said.

(Another) Karlsson injury

Lucas Karlsson is the NCDC version of Sami Salo with how often he gets injured — to no fault of his own. He missed several weeks with an undisclosed injury in January, followed by a concussion and a broken finger in early March.

Midway through the second period with his team on the powerplay, Karlsson took a clearing attempt to the face. He rushed off the ice, a constant stream of blood coming from his right eyebrow.

He would leave the game temporarily, getting seven stitches before returning for the third period.

“He played some critical minutes in the third period and in overtime,” Becanic said of Karlsson. “What a warrior. For that kid just coming off a concussion and take a puck to the face.”

Standings

Now three points ahead of the Pueblo Bulls, a victory on Thursday would guarantee the Spud Kings a playoff spot. The Bulls play the last-place Rock Springs Grizzlies twice this weekend, meaning they have the opportunity to earn four points.

The tiebreaker in the NCDC is the two teams’ records against each other. In that situation, the Bulls would win handily with a record of 7-3-1 against the Spuds.

College-bound

A 2.03 goals against average and a .940 save percentage have singled out Inabinet as one of the best goalies in the NCDC this year. It’s his last year of junior hockey eligibility, but he now has the opportunity to continue his hockey career even after he leaves the Gem State.

The Spud Kings announced on Wednesday that Inabinet has committed to Vermont State University at Castleton, an NCAA Division III program.

Tucker Inabinet has committed to Vermont State University at Castleton.

Tucker Inabinet has committed to Vermont State University at Castleton. Photo credit: Will Vasseur

What’s next?

The Predators and Spud Kings face off again on Thursday — the final regular season game for both teams. As was the case on Wednesday, Thursday’s game will be at Mountain America Center because there was a scheduling conflict at Peaks Ice Arena, where the Predators play their home games.

The puck drops at 7:05 p.m. If available, tickets can be purchased on the Spud Kings’ website and at the Bingham Healthcare Box Office at Mountain America Center.

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