The Gamblers defeated the Fighting Saints by a 2-1 regulation mark Saturday night at the Resch Center, pulling Green Bay even with Dubuque and Team USA for the Eastern Conference’s second-best team points mark (33) through 27 games. The win improved the Gamblers’ 2013-14 season mark to 14-8-5, giving Green Bay a .611 win percentage that ranks third-best in the conference.
Staving off 35 of 36 total shots by the Fighting Saints in the contest, Green Bay goaltender Jared Rutledge increased his season save rate to 90.7 percent. With time winding down in regulation, the Skokie, Ill. native faced an onslaught of shots, yet maintained his composure, ending any hope for Dubuque to draw even.
“The one thing you know is he competes so hard every night,” Gamblers assistant head coach Pat Mikesch said after the game. “And I think his competitiveness is what won us that game tonight.”
Offensively, the Gamblers struggled early on.
In a high-paced affair, the Fighting Saints controlled the puck in the first half of the opening frame, registering the first 10 shots on goal while holding Green Bay shot-less until 9:25 remaining in the period. But with Rutledge between the pipes, the Gamblers knew it would only take one shot to break open the game for good.
And they got that goal.
With 2:49 remaining in the opening period, Sebastian Weberg produced the game’s first tally — a slap-shot goal 15 feet from the net and past Dubuque goaltender Hayden Stewart. The score gave Green Bay a 1-0 advantage heading into the second period despite having been out-shot 13-7 in the initial frame.
Continuing the Gamblers’ streak of efficient scoring, Ryan Lough notched his twelfth goal of the year midway through the second period, extending the Gamblers’ lead to 2-0 over the Fighting Saints. Evan Tironese recorded his fifteenth assist on the goal.
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Eric Robinson tabbed Dubuque’s lone goal of the game at the 15:29 mark in the final period, trimming Green Bay’s lead to 2-1. Rutledge rendered the score moot, however, by successfully saving each of the next seven shots produced by the Fighting Saints en route to giving his team the 2-1 victory.
“Well I mean we didn’t start well last night and we didn’t start well tonight,” Mikesch said, “so I mean it’s something that we’ll need to look at in our preparation. But I like the way we’re playing as a 60 minute game. We had to hang on there a little bit at the end, but the starts are definitely something we want to do better. That’s a good team that game out ready to play.
Following up a 7-5 road win against Dubuque the previous night with their first home victory since Nov. 27, the Gamblers realize the importance of winning games against top competition as the second half of the season begins to take shape.
“I think either of those games could have gone either way,” Mikesch said. “We know Dubuque is one of those top teams, so it’s a good matchup for us. We could have been 0-2 just as easily this weekend and sat there and said: ‘We’re close’. Right now, we’re in the same position — we’re going to be one of those teams that’s in the mix at the end of the year.”