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Calder Countdown: Tucson Roadrunners clinch playoff berth with win vs. Iowa

The Roadrunners are heading to the postseason for the first time in team history.

Photo courtesy of Iowa Wild

Hockey season in Tucson will last just a while longer this year. With a road win over the Iowa Wild, the Tucson Roadrunners have officially clinched a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Tucson only needed a single point on Saturday to clinch a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs (a minimum overtime loss), but the Roadrunners defeated Iowa, 4-3, in the Wells Fargo Center.

What began with a slow start in the first half of the first period, Iowa was to first to strike, scoring a power-play goal 10:53 into the first period.

It didn’t take too much long after until Tucson’s Carter Camper found the back of the net from near the blue line at 14:55, tying the game at one apiece.

The Wild would answer right back just three minutes later, leaving the first period with a 2-1 lead.

That early slow flow from the first period carried over into the second period. No team found the net, while the Roadrunners were only held to 5 shots — as opposed to Iowa’s 11 — in the second.

The third period was quite the change for both teams. Three goals were scored in the first few minutes. Tucson went right out of the gates with two back-to-back goals from Micheal Bunting within the first 1:46, and just 40 seconds apart to give Tucson the 3-2 lead.

The Roadrunners momentum was immediately shot right back down, however, when the Wild answered right back just seconds after, tying it at three.

The two teams continued to fight back and forth on the ice, without a score for much of the frame. It didn’t end in regulation tied, however, with just 36 seconds remaining in the game, Lane Pederson scored the game winning goal that launched the Tucson Roadrunners into the Calder Cup playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

Roadrunners goaltender Hunter Miska had quite the performance, setting aside 24 of the Wild’s 27 shots. While his three goals allowed is more than his usual in the last couple of games, Miska made quite a few acrobatic style diving saves.

Tucson’s appearance in the 2018 postseason is also a testament to how quickly things can change in the American Hockey League. In their inaugural season, the Roadrunners finished with only 29 wins and sixth in the Pacific Division. They fired their head coach and GM, and looked to start fresh.

And now, just one year later, and with 82 points (38-19-5-1 record) on the season, the Roadrunners have become the first team in the Western Conference to clinch a playoff berth — they are the sixth team in the entire American Hockey League to do so.

The Roadrunners have just five games remaining now, including a three-game series against their I-8 Border Rival, the San Diego Gulls.

In these upcoming games, Tucson will be battling to clinch both the Pacific Division title, as well as home ice advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs.

The Roadrunners return home this weekend, hosting the Grand Rapids Griffins this Friday and Saturday at 7pm.

Follow Rob Leano on Twitter @RobLeano1