Seals End Rhinos Season in Thorne Cup Semifinals
Joshua Mikes notched a hat trick, goalie Filip Orcik stopped 45 of 47 El Paso shots and the Bay Area Seals avenged a first-round loss to the Rhinos with a 7-2 win, vaulting the Seals into the Thorne Cup Finals Easter Sunday in McCall, ID.
Though El Paso outshot Bay Area, 47-27, the Rhinos could not find the net, while the Seals found it plenty after trailing early in the game.
El Paso defenseman Chris Wilhite struck first for the second-seeded Rhinos, depositing a feed from Chad Cesarz past Orcik at 9:48 of the opening period.
But that would be all for El Paso until the third period as Orcik put the Seals on his back until Bay Area's offense found its stride.
Found it, they did, beginning in the second period. Ladislav Hruska beat Rhinos' goalie Alex Palumbo 1:29 into the frame, followed by Martin Vachal just 15 seconds later, giving Bay Area a lead it would not relinquish.
Mikes notched his first -- and the game-winning goal -- at 17:12 of the second.
Two more quick goals at the beginning of the third all but doomed El Paso, as Nick Anderson and Mikes combined to score twice in 16 seconds, at 3:14 and 3:30, respectively.
Mikes' goal chased Palumbo from the net as head coach Cory Herman replaced him with Kiefer Giroux in the hopes of finding the spark that would light a fire under his team.
As it has often this season, that spark came in the form of John Morales. The lanky Los Angeles native scored at 13:05 of the third to give the Rhinos a ray of hope.
Morales finishes as the Rhinos' top scorer in the post-season with his team-best seventh goal of the playoffs. He also had five assists for a team-high 12 points.
Mark DeVaughn scored the empty net goal for Bay Area at 16:52 to stop the rally, and Mikes added one for good measure, notching his hat trick at 19:11.
The Seals will face two-time defending champion Idaho for the Thorne Cup Easter Sunday at 5 p.m. MDT.
The Rhinos have lifted the Thorne Cup only once, in 2008.
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