CEDAR RAPIDS – It feels like a playoff series now.
The Cedar Rapids RoughRiders and Dubuque Fighting Saints have provided some drama, some chippiness, some chirpiness and some controversy in their first two USHL playoff games. They also provided a victory split, each by a goal.
Things shift to the tri-state region this weekend with the best-of-five series completely up for grabs. Game 3 is Friday night at 7:35 at Dubuque's Mystique Ice Center.
"Yeah, it seems like a typical (NHL) playoff series that you see on TV," said RoughRiders defenseman Scott Moldenhauer. "It's pretty exciting."
Moldenhauer has seemed to be front and center in the chirpiness department, doing his fair share of face-to-face yapping with various Dubuque opponents. Thus far, no one has dropped the gloves.
"The talk is going both ways," said Moldenhauer, with a smile. "It just sort of comes from playing the same team back to back. It's a lot of personal rivalries, stuff like that."
Dubuque won Game 1 last weekend in Cedar Rapids, 2-1, with a third-period goal. The RoughRiders survived Game 2, thanks to a Corey Petrash goal in the final minute.
The Riders built a 5-0 lead early in the second period but couldn't hold it.
"Nothing really changes. We're working on the stuff we've been working on all year," RoughRiders Coach Mark Carlson said, when asked what the focus of practice was this week. "I think just more consistency. We played with a lot of confidence, made a lot of plays. I think we just need more consistency."
"I thought we had a lot of good work ethic last weekend," Moldenhauer said. "In practice, we sharpened up on some defensive stuff this week. Gaps in the D-zone, stuff like that. We'll be good, as long as we keep working."
The series controversy came late in the first period of Game 2 when Dubuque's Karson Kuhlman plowed into Cedar Rapids goaltender Danny Tirone in front of the net. He drew a five-minute major penalty, with the RoughRiders scoring three times on the ensuing power play.
This came shortly after another Dubuque player incurred a minor penalty for slashing Tirone at the side of the net. Video of the Kuhlman-Tirone play, complete with various angles, was sent to the USHL office this week with Kuhlman receiving no further discipline.
"They were coming in on the rush, and he was just driving the net," Tirone said, when asked to describe what he saw and felt. "When the guy shot it, it went over my shoulder, and I kind of lunged at it a little bit. He was driving the net, so it was a little hard for him to get out of the way, I guess. We collided pretty good there. I haven't actually seen (a replay of) it. I'm not really sure the intention of it. I mean, it happens a lot, guys are always crashing the net."
"He was driving the net. It kind of looked like he went for Danny on that one," Moldenhauer said. " I don't know, don't know what the call should be on something like that."
Carlson wouldn't publicly touch the subject with the proverbial 10-foot pole.
"I don't have any comment on that," he said, flatly.
"I try not to look too much into it," TIrone said. "I've got to do my job. We were fortunate enough to get some goals off of our power play. Our power play really stepped up. That's really what our focus is, on what we're doing, not what they're doing."
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