Another quick start set the tone Saturday night as the Tucson Roadrunners won for the sixth time in eight games while keeping their postseason hopes alive.
En route to a 5-2 victory over the Colorado Eagles at Tucson Arena, the streaking Roadrunners peppered Colorado goaltender Pavel Francouz for 18 first-period shots, with Tyler Steenbergen opening up the evening’s scoring just 2:40 into the opening frame. A night earlier, it was Nick Merkley who scored the first of his three goals less than two minutes in against the same Eagles.
The difference Saturday, though: a win and two points in the standings, compared to Friday’s one point after an overtime loss.
“We all know kind of the consequences of where we’re at right now and what we need to do to continue to win,” said Tucson forward Hudson Fasching, whose two goals and an assist left him just shy of becoming the third Tucson skater with a coveted hat trick in the team’s last four games. “Guys are just doing more right now. The hat tricks and multi-point games are just kind of evidence of that.”
Improving to 6-1-0-1 in that recent eight-game span, the Roadrunners are now three points behind the Eagles and San Diego Gulls for fourth place in the Pacific Division. The AHL’s Calder Cup playoffs start in about three weeks, and the top four teams in each division earn berths to the bracket-style tournament.
The Roadrunners have six games remaining, while Colorado has four and San Diego, which lost Saturday night to the Stockton Heat, has five to play.
“I think honestly we’re trying not to look ahead too much,” Fasching said. “(We) look at every game as an opportunity to catch up on Colorado in the standings. That’s kind of our motivation right now.”
It’s only natural to see the Roadrunners (31-23-5-3) and Eagles (34-25-4-1) fighting for that last spot, considering the clubs were unofficially deemed “rivals” via an AHL schedule that pitted them against each other 12 times. Saturday was the 12th and final game the teams will meet during the regular season, with Tucson sporting a 3-6-2-1 record against the Eagles.
It wasn’t just the first period that saw the Roadrunners’ offense clicking from the start. About 90 seconds into the second period, Jérémy Grégoire scored on a shorthanded breakaway to give Tucson a 3-1 lead.
In addition to Fasching, who scored late in the second period and early in the third, Brayden Burke had a goal and an assist for the Roadrunners while Dakota Mermis had two assists. Merkley, Robbie Russo, Kelly Klima and Matteo Gennaro also had assists.
In net, Adin Hill allowed two or fewer goals for the Roadrunners for the seventh time in his last eight starts, stopping 27 of the 29 shots he faced. Tucson’s shot totals against Francouz slowed after the first period, but the Roadrunners still managed 41 for the game.
Both of Fasching’s goals came on the power play. Tucson was 2 for 7 with the man advantage, with one Colorado skater or another in the penalty box for more than half of the first two periods.
“That was a huge focus for us tonight — staying out of the fracas, staying out of all that stuff and converting on our chances on the power play,” Fasching said. “We were just feeling it the last couple games. Our (power play) unit was really moving the puck well.”
The Roadrunners next head out of town for a Tuesday-Wednesday pair at Iowa.