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Rampage Report: San Antonio’s season is turning around

It helps when you have NHL talent on your AHL roster.

We have an on-site correspondent with the Rampage now, but he’s having issues logging in. When he’s able to log-in, these home recaps will switch over to being published by Tony, not me.

— by Tony Uminski

(San Antonio) – No need for extra time Sunday as the Rampage dispatched the Iowa Wild, 5-2 at the AT&T Center with a lineup chock full of NHL imports.

The Rampage had played three of the last four games in either overtime or shootouts, but used a three-goal outburst in the third period to drop the Wild for the second straight game after Friday’s 4-3 shootout win.

For whatever reason, the Rampage have dominated the Wild teams over the years, going 10-2-1 over the last five years in San Antonio. The win was also the Rampage’s third straight and ninth in their last 13 (9-3-1).

Zach Sanford, just returned to San Antonio Sunday, scored a goal and an assist, while Jordan Kyrou continued his torrid offensive play with another goal and two more helpers to lead the attack. Chris Thorburn, Klim Kostin and Mitch Reinke added goals with Ville Husso stopping 24 of 26 Iowa shots.

Husso set the pace for this one when he fought off a Wild 3-on-1 just three minutes into the game, using the blocker to stop Gerry Fitzgerald in the slot. That was Iowa’s last major push for two periods.

Kostin tipped a pass from Sanford right on the doorstep, stopped by Iowa’s Kaapo Kahkonen, but the Blues’ top pick in 2017 snagged the rebound in mid-air knee-high and fired the puck into the net at 17”44 of the opening period.

Chris Thorburn made it 2-0 when he scored the Rampage’s only non-power play goal, as he finished a nice feed from Kostin, who enjoyed one of his strongest games of the season. The veteran known more for high sticking than high scoring was stationed to the left side of the net when the puck came right to him and he jammed it into the empty net for his first of the season with the Rampage at 11:21 of the second.

“It was great play getting the puck deep and Klim makes a great pass to me backdoor and I just have to tap it in,” said Thorburn, a veteran of 801 NHL games with St. Louis, Winnipeg, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and the Atlanta Thrashers now back in Winnipeg. “Credit goes to my linemates, especially Klim.” It was Thorburn’s first AHL goal since April 5, 2006 against the Toronto Marlies when he was playing for the Rochester Americans.

After the Wild pulled with one on a goal with one second left in the period and began to show some momentum, their goaltender presented the Rampage with an early Christmas gift.

Kahkonen was flagged for playing the puck outside of the trapezoid – a delay of game penalty – at 6:12 and Kyrou’s blast on the ensuing power play made it 3-1. Blais crossed the puck to defenseman Joey LaLeggia who zipped it over back to Kyrou in the slot and the one-timer found mid-elevation in the cage.

The Rampage then suddenly found themselves in a two-man advantage moments after back-to-back penalties against the Wild, and the power play unit of Sanford, leading Rampage scorer Mitch Reinke, Kyrou, Blais and Trevor Smith on the ice, San Antonio lit the scoreboard twice.

Sanford found the loose puck at the side of the crease and had the entire net to shoot at and he didn’t miss at 9:17. “The power play was actually clicking really well in the third period,” said the 6-4 Sanford, who scored four goals in 23 games with the Blues after his October recall. “It’s always nice when one comes to you backdoor with the goalie at the other side of the net. I just tried to make sure I bared down and put that one in.”

Sanford’s goal came on a two-man advantage, and on the next penalty, another backdoor play, this time with Reinke and Kyrou put the Rampage up 5-1 just 49 seconds later. Reinke snuck down from his left point position, took a perfect pass from Kyrou to the bottom of the circle right side and slid the puck past the discouraged Kahkonen at 10:06.

The Rampage improved to 12-15-1-0, and moved ahead of the Manitoba Moose, out of the Central Division’s cellar for the first time since October. What’s been the difference? Rampage coach Drew Bannister said, “It’s a simple hockey game where guys understand where they need to be to have success. Defensively, we’ve been good all year. Offensively, in our transition game. We tried to play a faster game is where we struggled. I think we kinda have that down pat right now.”

Thorburn said, “Everyone has been elevating their game and it’s led to a lot of successful games for us.”

Four of the next five Rampage games will be against inter-state rival, Texas and the Stars are one of the hottest teams in the league, going 5-0-1-0 over the last six games.

Standings-wise, the Rampage are 12 points behind division-leading Milwaukee with two games in hand, and find themselves just eight points out of fourth place, the possible last playoff position.

Is the post-season out of the question for the Rampage? Thorburn said, “The analytics guys will tell you different stuff, that if you’re not in the playoffs by Thanksgiving, but our mindset is one game at a time, that’s cliché, but at the same time, I don’t think we can look further past that. For us, it’s a good goal to have, just play every game like it’s the important one. And that’s what we’ve been doing and that’s where we’ve been starting to snowball some wins together.”