Paul Esdale scored two goals in the SteelHounds' 5-4 win over the Rage.
By TOM WILLIAMS
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- Two days after owner Herb Washington vowed that his team would make the Central Hockey League playoffs in its second season, the SteelHounds rebounded from a tough third period to remain unbeaten and in first place.
After losing a two-goal lead on the Rocky Mountain Rage, defenseman Paul Esdale rescued the SteelHounds in overtime by scoring his second goal of the game.
Esdale's 35-foot shot eluded Rage goalie David Guerrera to give the SteelHounds a 5-4 victory Friday in the home opener at the Chevrolet Centre.
"If you keep shooting, eventually it will go through," said Esdale who also scored Youngstown's first goal. "I just buried my head and let it go, and luckily it went in."
SteelHounds captain Jeff Christian, who assisted on the game-winner, thinks it was more than luck.
"That's his job and he knows his job," said Christian who scored the SteelHounds' fourth goal and earned two assists. "He loves to play the offensive role and he loves to throw pucks at the net, and that's exactly what we need, with me and [Joey] Sewell and [Chris] Richards sneaking in there for rebounds."
A two-man advantage triggered the SteelHounds' first lead of the game.
Richards gets fifth goal
Richards, the CHL's leading scoring, netted his fifth goal in three games when he picked up a rebound off a Guerrera's pads and snapped the puck into the net for a 3-2 lead seven minutes into the second period. Defenseman Jeff Alcombrack fired the puck from near the point to set up the goal.
With 20 seconds to go in the second period, Christian fed Richards for a close shot but a Rage defender knocked the puck away. The SteelHounds kept the puck in the zone and with a second to play, Christian deflected a shot by Sewell past Guerrera for a 4-2 lead.
"Joey Sewell just threw it and it literally hit my stick and went in," Christian said. "I didn't know there was only one second [remaining] but you kind of start counting down in your head."
Sloppy defense in the third period helped the Rage score twice.
First, Nick Warriner pounced on a SteelHounds giveaway and skated untouched before beating goalie Brad Roberts. Then with 2:09 remaining in regulation, Anders Strome netted his third goal of the game to force overtime.
"The fourth one was kind of a bouncy puck that he chipped into the top corner," Christian said.
The SteelHounds outshot the Rage, 38-21, in regulation.
"It was an ugly win, but you have to give them credit -- they never quit," said SteelHounds coach Kevin Kaminski of the CHL expansion team. "They kept on coming and it paid off. Tonight, we weren't as sharp as our first two games."
Last weekend, the SteelHounds won twice in Memphis over the RiverKIngs.
The SteelHounds' second-period dominance offset the opening period's seesaw battle. The Rage needed just 20 seconds to grab a 1-0 lead as Strome beat Roberts with a backhander,
Twenty-one seconds after the first penalties were issued, the SteelHounds tied the game with Esdale's first goal while skating 4-on-4.
After Strome's second goal gave the Rage their final lead, Chris Shaffer tied the game by picking up a rebound near the Rage goal. Shaun Landolt set up the goal by carrying the puck into the crease before being stuffed by Guerrera.
"It's a good win, but I know we can play better," Esdale said. "We got lucky tonight but we'll take it. There was a letdown and I know we can play better for a full 60 minutes."
The SteelHounds and Rage face off again tonight at 7.