Outliers sweep Bulls to advance to division finals

by Paul Taylor

Bring out the brooms! The Utah Outliers won game two of the best-of-three series by a score of 6-1 to sweep the Pueblo Bulls and advance to the Mountain Division finals. Utah outscored Pueblo 12-3 in the two games and dominated the action from start to finish.

For game two, the Outliers started netminder Lucas Brine in goal while the Pueblo Bulls gave the nod to Artem Lantukh. Both goalies were tested over the course of the games and made numerous big saves for their club. Brine, in particular, would shine in the third period when Pueblo attempted to make a comeback push and prevent the Outliers from sweeping them. 

Game two of the series began with Utah getting off to a quick start by scoring just minutes into the contest when Pueblo was called for a five-minute major penalty. The Outliers started their man-advantage opportunity with defenseman Helvis Rudzajs breaking the puck out of his own zone and passing to Matthew Koepke skating up the left side of the ice. Koepke received the pass from Rudzajs and then made a crisp cross-ice pass to Nick Obourn streaking down the far side of the ice. Obourn caught Koepke's pass and entered the Bulls' zone with some space and blast a slapshot from the top of the circles that beat the Pueblo netminder far side for a 1-0 Utah lead. 

The early power-play goal gave Utah life as it energized the team and they continued to pressure the Bulls' net and put shots on goal in hopes of extending their lead. Pueblo goaltender Artem Lantukh made a handful of quality saves to keep his team in the game and prevent the Outliers from adding to their score. The Bull's penalty kill would escape the Outliers offensive assault by allowing only one goal against during the five-minute penalty. 

With just a minute remaining in the opening frame, Utah would score its second goal of the evening. Forward Donovan Burdette made a great stick check while defending in the neutral zone to create a turnover and put the Outliers on a 2-on-1 odd-man rush. Donovan skated the puck into the Bulls' zone off the rush and threaded a beautiful saucer pass to Miles McCue breaking to the net on the backdoor. Mccue would make a one-touch shot off of Burdette's pass over the pad of Lantukh to give Utah a 2-0 lead heading into the intermission. 

The second period was once again all Outliers as they outskated the Bulls and continuously pressured the Pueblo net. With just over five minutes into the second frame, Utah was rewarded for their hard play when Noah Bourassa put his team up 3-0. The play originated with defenseman Helvis Rudzajs making a cross-ice breakout pass to Matthew Koepke skating up the right side of his own zone and into the neutral zone. Koepke would carry the puck into the Bulls' zone and dish a short lateral pass to Bourassa supporting the middle lane off the rush. Bourassa accepted Koepke's pass high in the Pueblo zone and skated to the top of the circles to rip a rocket of a shot into the top right corner over Lantukh's blocker. 

Utah added its fourth goal and second in the period when Jonsson-Edfast scored the highlight goal of the night. Jonsson-Edfast picked up a puck in the neutral zone and found some space as he skated up ice with speed and split the Pueblo defensemen to put himself on a breakaway. As he broke free from the defenders, Jonsson-Edfast made a quick backhand-to-forehand fake and slipped his shot over the right pad of Lantukh just inside the post. The home team would enter the locker room with a sizeable 4-0 lead and one period away from earning the series sweep. 

In the third period, Pueblo worked hard to make a final push with their season on the line. The visitors tried to stretch the game out and find ways to play in the Outliers zone more as they searched for their first goal of the game. Utah goaltender Lucas Brine was up to the challenge as he made some key saves to keep Pueblo off the scoreboard. As the Bulls continued to press for offense in the Outliers' zone, Utah created a turnover by its own blueline and defenseman Luke Clarke took the puck and broke up the right side of the ice into the neutral zone. Donovan Burdette seized an opportunity to join Clarke on the rush by breaking past a couple of Pueblo defenders and creating a middle-lane drive through the Bulls zone. Clarke spotted Burdette and fed him a perfect pass for a breakaway. Burdette skated in all alone on Lantukh and sniped his shot past the goaltender for a 5-0 Outliers' lead. 

Pueblo eventually broke their scoring drought and the shutout attempt for Brine with 5:33 remaining in the third period. A failed clearing attempt by the Outliers allowed a Pueblo defenseman to keep the puck in the Utah zone and send a shot at Utah's net. A scramble ensued off a rebound at the net and the puck found its way past Brine to put the Bulls on the scoreboard and narrow the Outliers lead to 5-1. 

Utah added one more goal for the night during a late power play to give the home team a 6-1 lead. Nikolas Schwab took the puck from behind the Bulls' net and drove it towards the goaltender in an attempt to stuff it in. A rebound occurred off Schwab's shot in front of the net where Miles Mccue took a slap at it and it found its way back to Schwab who tapped it into the open net past Lantukh. 

Utah's hard and aggressive style of hockey was too much for Pueblo to handle on this night and the Outliers skated off the ice with a 6-1 victory. The win gave Utah a sweep of the series and they will now advance to the Mountain Division Finals. 

Utah would outshoot the Bulls 40-22 in the game and demonstrate their strong play on both sides of the puck. The Outliers' three stars of the night belonged to #1 Lucas Brine  #2 Donovan Burdette  #3 Matthew Koepke

The Outliers will host the Mountain Division finals with games being played in a best-of-three format on March 18-20 at the Acord Ice Center. All games will be broadcast live on HockeyTV.com