It had been quite the roller coaster ride for the Missouri Mavericks in their inaugural season. The first half of the season, they tried to dig themselves out of a hole created by their awful start of the season. The middle of the season was marred by inconsistency, especially from the play of their goaltenders. However, the majority of the second half proved that the Mavericks were one of the better teams in the league. The 64-game grind all culminated tonight at the IEC, where the Mavericks hosted their first-ever playoff game. While the Mavs came into tonight's game as the lowest seed in the Northern Conference, this Mavs team has played and beaten the best of the best in the CHL. The Mississippi Riverkings were in town, and these two rivals would battle it out yet again, just like they already had eleven times in the regular season.
The first period of play had a near-disastrous start for the Mavericks, but Mavs goalie Charlie Effinger would come to the rescue yet again, like he has done so many times since being acquired from the Allen Americans. Mississippi put together a good offensive rush, which lead to several chances, in particular when Riverkings forward Darrell Stoddard appeared to have a wide-open net with the puck on his stick. Just as he released his shot, Effinger quickly dove back towards the back post, and somehow managed to keep the puck out of the net. "It absolutely changed the game. That save dictated the rest of the game," Mavs coach Scott Hillman said after the game. The Mavs would then put together a great offensive rush but did not score. While Mississippi was attempting to the clear the zone, great forechecking by Jeff Christian and Bill Vandermeer forced a Riverkings turnover deep in their zone. Vandermeer, who missed 26 games in the second half of the season with a high ankle sprain, ended up with the puck on his stick at the top of the faceoff circle to the left of Mississippi goalie Kyle McNulty. Vandermeer ripped a laser slapshot and beat McNulty at the 11:37 mark. "I've been out for so long, and I was so excited to play in front of these fans. It was unbelievable," Vandermeer said about his goal. The Riverkings would tie the game up only three minutes later when Elias Godoy beat Effinger at the 14:54 mark. On the ensuing faceoff, the Mavs started their offensive attack from their own end. Coming up the right side of the ice, Jeff Christian attempted to dump the puck into the Mississippi zone. The puck struck the linesman in the midsection, and trickled out into the slot. McNulty had already left his crease to corral the puck behind the net. Jordan Foreman got the puck first and put it in the empty net to give the Mavs a 2-1 lead. "It's not too often you get one of the linesman's gut. That's one that we work on," Christian joked. The Mavs would extend their lead at the 17:00 mark when Brett Hammond redirected a shot from Mike Burgoyne that McNulty never had a chance to stop. The Mavs would take their 3-1 lead into the second period.
Neither team tallied any markers on the scoreboard in the second period. The only notable action came at the end of the period when Mavericks captain Carlyle Lewis took a major penalty for spearing and a game misconduct. The play is to be reviewed by the CHL, and no word has been given as to whether Lewis will be further disciplined.
Mississippi threw everything they had at the Mavericks in the final session. Riverkings forward Darrell Stoddard would pull them to within one goal, when he threw the puck at the net from a sharp angle that seemed to catch Effinger by surprise. The puck squirted threw the pads of the Mavs netminder and Mississippi thought that they got just the boost that they needed. However, the Mavs defense locked down for the rest of the game, allowing only five shots on goal for the entire period. Jordan Foreman would add an empty-netter to seal the game in the final minute of play. The Mavs would hold on for a 4-2 victory in their first ever playoff game.
"We made some mistakes emotionally, which lead to some penalty situations. We were lucky to win this game, taking as many penalties as we did. You usually don't win playoff games with that many minutes in the box," Hillman said after the game.
The Mavs will travel to Mississippi for Game 2 of the three-game series on Wednesday. There will be a Fan Watch Party at Hooters in Independence. Mavs fans are encouraged to come out and watch the game live at Hooters.
- Jeff Christian was awarded the 1st Star of the Game, Bill Vandermeer the 2nd Star, and Charlie Effinger the 3rd Star
- Effinger saved 27 of 29 shots faced
- The Mavs outshot the Riverkings 33-29
- Mavs defenseman Jared Lavender was a late scratch for the game. Hillman said that Lavender was at 100%, but he was worried about Lavender being a little rusty. Look for him to return on Wednesday
- Prior to the game, the Mavericks signed two amateur players to round out their 21-man playoff roster. Defensemen Mike McGurk and Chris Mifflen give the Mavs a little depth on the blue line