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Helena rattles Quake hockey

The Quake’s Alex Johansons skates against Helena during NORPAC playoff action on Tuesday night. The Bighorns captured a 9-0 victory to take a one-game lead in the best-of-five series. The Quake’s Alex Johansons skates against Helena during NORPAC playoff action on Tuesday night. The Bighorns captured a 9-0 victory to take a one-game lead in the best-of-five series. Tribune photo by Randal Horobik

NORPAC playoffs open in Cody

Heading into the first round of the NORPAC playoffs, head coach Craig Furstenau knew his team had a challenge ahead in its best-of-five series against the 48-2 Helena Bighorns. On Tuesday night, he saw just how tall that challenge was.

“You cannot make a mistake against those guys,” Furstenau said following a 9-0 Helena victory. “Any little error on your part and they’re able to jump on it.”

In Tuesday’s playoff opener at Riley Arena, Helena jumped early. Former Quake forward Chris Rinaldi scored two minutes into the contest for Helena. The Bighorns tacked on another goal with about six minutes left in the period to extend their lead to 2-0 at the first intermission.

Rinaldi added another goal 77 seconds into the second period. The Bighorns scored their first of four power play goals four minutes before the second intermission and things unraveled from there.

The Bighorns added two more power play goals to open the third period to stretch their lead to six. The team tacked on a full-strength tally with 5:37 remaining and closed the contest with back-to-back Nolan Grauer goals in the final 2:15 for the nine-goal final margin.

“I didn’t think we played that bad in the first two periods,” Furstenau said. “We let in a couple shots that I thought we could have stopped, but overall I was pleased with how we played in the first two periods. We just can’t afford to lose our composure like we did the final 20 minutes.”

As a team, the Quake was outshot 57-17 on Tuesday night. The bulk of that disparity came during the final 20 minutes when the team was able to get up ice for just three shot attempts, compared to 27 for Helena.

Furstenau noted the Bighorns are probably one of the top five teams in the nation.

“We went to double overtime against them less than a month ago and, when we haven’t taken unnecessary penalties, we’ve been able to be right there in the final period,” Furstenau said. “They’re a different team though. They’ve brought some guys in since then, and it showed tonight.”

Game two of the best-of-five series took place Wednesday night in Cody. A write-up of that game will appear on the Powell Tribune’s online blog at www.powelltribune.com.

The teams are off today (Thursday) and will finish out the series in Helena beginning on Friday. Games four and five, if necessary, would be played on Saturday and Sunday.

The winner of the Yellowstone-Helena series will advance to the NORPAC America West divisional championship series against the winner of the Missoula-Billings series. Missoula took a 7-4 win on Tuesday night to grab a 1-0 lead in that best-of-five showdown.

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