San Antonio goalie Jacob Markstrom gets a handle on a loose puck in the crease with Greg Nemisz lurking on the doorstep.

San Antonio goalie Jacob Markstrom gets a handle on a loose puck in the crease with Greg Nemisz lurking on the doorstep.

Markstrom snuffs Heat offence as Rampage roll to 6-1 win

The Abbotsford Heat's struggles to score are so pronounced, adding a red-hot opposition goalie to the equation is almost unfair.

The Abbotsford Heat’s dual struggles – scoring goals and winning on home ice – are so pronounced, adding a red-hot opposition goalie to the equation is almost unfair.

The Heat peppered San Antonio Rampage netminder Jacob Markstrom with 39 shots on Saturday evening, but their industriousness yielded just a single goal in a 6-1 loss before 4,194 fans at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.

At the other end of the ice, the Rampage capitalized on a handful of Heat gaffes to pick up a crucial victory in an absurdly tight playoff race.

After the dust had settled, the Heat were the owners of the AHL’s least prolific offence (2.37 goals per game) and worst home record (12-15-3-1).

“The score didn’t really indicate how the game went,” Heat forward Guillaume Desbiens said, with justification.

“We had a lot of chances and we weren’t able to score on them, and we had a few costly mistakes that they scored on. We have to tip our hats to them, because they buried their chances and we didn’t.”

San Antonio (35-26-3-2) began the night in ninth place in the Western Conference, but jumped all the way to fifth with the victory, leapfrogging the Heat (34-26-3-4) in the process. Both teams have 75 points – a distinction shared by the Rochester Americans and Peoria Rivermen – but the Heat are currently in eighth by virtue of the fact they’ve played more games.

The Heat dominated the first five minutes of the game, registering the first four shots. Ryan Howse had a great scoring chance, as Carter Bancks circled the net and fed the rookie right winger as he cruised into the slot. But Markstrom came up with a right shoulder save on Howse’s rising shot.

At the 6:47 mark, against the run of play, San Antonio’s James Wright opened the scoring. Rampage forward Greg Rallo hammered a slap shot on the rush, and Heat goalie Leland Irving served up a juicy rebound to Wright in front. The former Vancouver Giant chipped the biscuit into the yawning cage.

Bracken Kearns made it 2-0 late in the frame. Mark Cullen did most of the work, lifting the stick of Heat blueliner James Martin and stealing the puck, before feathering a pass across to Kearns for a one-timer.

The Heat out-shot the Rampage 13-10 during a wide-open second period, but San Antonio emerged with the lone goal. Jon Matsumoto shook free of Abbotsford defenceman J.P. Testwuide in front of the net for long enough to take a pass from Michal Repik – another former Giant – and whack a low shot into the bottom corner past Irving.

Just 12 seconds into the third, a goal by Ben Walter gave the Heat a glimmer of hope. On a two-on-one with Krys Kolanos, Walter – usually the table-setter for Kolanos – elected to keep and snuck a backhander between Markstrom’s pads.

But less than three minutes later, Heat centre Paul Byron committed a terrible turnover, as his pass along the Rampage blue line was intercepted by Bill Thomas. Thomas, San Antonio’s top goal-scorer, was precisely the wrong person to cough up the puck to, and he beat Irving on the ensuing breakaway with a five-hole wrist shot for his 24th of the season.

Thomas, with his second of the game, and Wright, into an empty net, would round out the scoring.

Meanwhile, Markstrom was frustrating the Heat, who fired 17 fruitless shots in the final frame. The Florida Panthers’ second-round pick in 2008 turned in a particularly stunning sequence on an Abbotsford power play midway through the period, stacking his pads to rob Howse and Walter in quick succession.

“He’s phenomenal,” Kearns said of Markstrom. “He’s really coming into his own here. He’s a top prospect for Florida, and it showed here tonight.”

Heat head coach Troy Ward acknowledged it was frustrating for his team to be down 2-0 after carrying the play for much of the first period.

“It felt like good old home,” he said with a wry grin. “That’s the way it’s been here – it’s been a tough go at home. I don’t think anyone can put a hand on it as to the reason why.

“We had two moments of truth in the first period, and we made two huge mistakes and we’re down 2-0. That’s kind of been our M.O.”

Irving’s body of work on Saturday included 20 saves on 25 shots, and he’s lost five of his last seven decisions at the AHL level. Ward noted he needs to be better.

“Leland has struggled for a while now,” he said. “But he’s our No. 1 goalie down here.

“At this time of year . . . you’ve got to rely on your best players.”

ICE CHIPS:

• The Heat and Rampage renew hostilities on Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. at the AESC.

• With captain Quintin Laing (foot) sidelined by injury, and Clay Wilson recalled by the Calgary Flames on Friday, Desbiens wore the captain’s ‘C’ on Saturday.