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In six tries during the regular season, the Helena Bighorns were unable to solve the Gillette Wild.

In six tries during the regular season, the Bighorns were able to score an average of just two goals per game.

In six tries during the regular season, the Wild piled up 32 total goals.

The thing is, the regular season is over.

Every team starts at 0-0.

And the Helena Bighorns, after blowing out visiting Gillette 4-1 on Thursday at the Helena Ice Arena, have now improved to 1-0.

The best-of-three series moves to Wyoming for the final two games, set for Friday and Saturday at 7:05 p.m. The winner advances to next week’s NA3HL Frontier Division semifinals.

“We’re only halfway done with the job, but bottom line was we had to win this one at home,” coach Bob Richards said. “It was important. Now we’ve gotta go and try to find a way to win one out of two on the road. But we did what we wanted to do, which was win our game at home. If we can get the effort and the play we did tonight, I feel good about our chances.”

Gillette scored first, Brooks Mitzel getting one past Nicholas Battaglia at 4:55 of the first period. But John Heddle, with an assist from Bradley Estrada, tied it up just five minutes later.

Neither team was able to score in the second, but in the third it was all Helena.

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First to strike was Gavin Cline, punching one home unassisted at 1:28. Heddle followed eight minutes later to make it a two-goal game, and Cline then put the exclamation mark on the win with a power-play goal at 16:34 after Gillette was whistled for too many men on the ice. Heddle assisted on the tally.

Battaglia finished the night stopping 49 of 50 shots. And, while the Bighorns were again bested in the shot total category, the team was able to generate 39 shots on Landon Anderson, and made the most of them.

“To be honest, I think we kept their quality scoring chances way down. Maybe in the single digits,” Richards said. “So they were taking a lot of outside shots. Team defense wise, I thought the guys did exceptional.”

The team will leave Friday morning for Wyoming, where it hopes to keep the Wild on their heels.

Battaglia will again be in net for Game 2.

“We’ve been in that position a few times this year when we’ve been in close games and we haven’t converted,” Richards said of the third-period outburst. “That’s what we wanted to do – convert the chances that we had. We didn’t want heroes. We just needed guys out there working.”

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Follow IR sports editor Troy Shockley on Twitter @IR_TroyShockley.


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