DALY CITY — Deja vu reared its ugly head at the Cow Palace on Friday as the Idaho Steelheads topped the San Francisco Bulls 4-3 in a shootout with the help of a late third-period goal.
With the Bulls (4-5-2) ahead 3-2 with less than two minutes to play in regulation, Scott Langdon took a double-minor penalty for high sticking and the Steelheads (5-4-2) tied the game on the power play with 36 seconds left on the clock.
The Bulls coughed away a game to the Steelheads in similar fashion on Oct. 23. In that contest, Jordan Morrison took a cross-checking penalty in the final minutes and the puck wound up in the back of the Bulls' net with 18.6 seconds to play.
“We need to be smarter,” Bulls coach Pat Curcio said. “We're giving points away.”
Langdon took accountability for putting his team on the penalty kill with less than two minutes to play.
“He was coming to the net pretty hard and I went to box him out and my stick came up and hit him in the face,” he said. “It was a good call by the ref, a dumb play by me and they made us pay.”
The Bulls' captain said he's also disappointed in the penalty kill. The Steelheads scored on 2-of-3 power-play opportunities on Friday — including the game-tying goal — and the Bulls entered the game ranked dead last in the ECHL on the penalty kill (73.3 percent).
“When we take bad penalties, they don't bail us out,” Langdon said. “It's been happening all year.”
Langdon said the penalty kill needs to do a better job of blocking shots.
“I was sitting in the box biting my nails, saying, come on boys, and it just doesn't happen,” he said.
Kyle Bigos agreed with his defensive partner's assessment of the problem.
“We just need to block more shots and our structure needs to be tighter,” he said.
The Bulls opened the scoring at 1:03 of the first period when Rob Linsmayer put home a rebound off a Brett Findlay shot from the left circle for his first goal of the season. Bigos also picked up an assist on the play.
The tally was the fastest opening goal the Bulls have scored in their brief franchise history.
But the Steelheads responded with a breakaway goal from Justin Mercier with 59 seconds left in the period. Mercier blocked a point shot from Bigos on his shin and chased the puck down in the neutral zone before putting it past goalie Tyler Beskorowany.
Bigos led the Bulls in shots in their win over the Stockton Thunder on Monday and he scored the game-winning goal in the team's home opener last week on a blast from the point.
But Curcio said the rookie needs to learn when to hold off.
“You've got to realize that there's a minute left in the period and it's more important to get the puck back in than to get it to the net,” he said.
Bigos acknowledged that he got caught up in the shoot, shoot, shoot mindset.
“Just like everything in life, moderation's key,” he said. “Shooting's a good thing, but if there's no lane, obviously, you want to get it down deep and keep puck possession.”
The Steelheads jumped ahead 2-1 at 5:58 of the second period when Mitch Wahl banked a puck off Bulls defenseman Collin Bowman's skate from behind the net. But Dean Ouellet tied it up with his third goal in three games roughly 10 minutes later by skipping the puck through the legs of Steelheads netminder Josh Robinson with a soft-wrist shot from the top of the left circle.
The Bulls took a 3-2 lead at 5:38 of the third period when Bigos redeemed his first-period mistake by one-timing a pass from Mark Lee off the inside of the far post, around the back of the Steelheads' net.
“It's what we've been working on in practice,” Bigos said. “Just a quick up, get it on net quick.”
After a scoreless overtime, the Steelheads earned two points by beating the Bulls 4-3 in a six-round shootout.
With the shootout loss, the Bulls have now picked up points in three straight games.
“Our effort is there, I like the way we play, I like our hard work,” Curcio said. “We'll take a point tonight and hopefully we can learn from it. It's a long year.”