DES MOINES -- When the games get biggest, that's when Kyle Rau seems to play his best.
Its been that way, seemingly forever, for the Eden Prairie product, who once upon a time, scored a game-winning goal in the third overtime to clinch a state championship in high school.
As one of just six guys in the lineup with AHL playoff experience for the Iowa Wild on Sunday, Rau came up big again in helping his team to a 7-0 win over the Milwaukee Admirals. The game marked the first playoff game in Iowa's history, and by its conclusion, the first playoff victory as well.
More than a dozen of his teammates felt the pressure of a first playoff game, but Rau was cool as a cucumber, scoring twice in the second and third periods, as Iowa grabbed a 1-0 advantage in the best-of-5 series.
"As the season wears on, even in game 72, you're just kind of waiting for something else," Rau said. "Now it comes and it's best-of-5, so it's go-time right off the bat. I pride myself on that."
About the only person that ruffled Rau's feathers on Sunday was towering Milwaukee defenseman Jarred Tinordi.
Video: Iowa: Rau's IA-MIL Game 1 Goals
With Iowa up four goals early in the third period, the 6-foot-6, 228-pound Tinordi got into a shoving match with the 5-foot-8, 173-pound Rau a couple of feet in front of the Admirals net.
It wasn't as much a shoving match as much as it was two guys cross-checking the living daylights out of each other to gain position in front of the goal.
"[Tinordi] was doing a number on him," said Iowa coach Tim Army. "He kept getting up, he kept fighting off and we talk about that a lot. If you can establish position, you have to kind of roll off the defenseman, almost like a pass rusher. You gotta keep rolling him off and he stayed with it then had the skill level to bang it in. That pushed the game out of reach."
Despite giving up nearly a foot in height and 50 pounds, Rau got the last laugh against the Admirals captain, when Matt Bartkowski's point shot hit Rau and landed on the blade of his stick. Rau looked down and shoveled the puck into the net for a 5-0 lead and the dagger.
"That was sick," said Wild defenseman Nate Prosser, himself no stranger to net-front battles.
Still not ready to backdown, Rau skated by Tinordi and let him know that he had just put the puck in the net past his goalie.
"Those [defensemen] can get away with anything in front of the net, but you give it back to them and they get mad," Rau said. "But after a battle like that, it feels good."
Despite his size, Rau has developed a knack for scoring from those close-in areas. Typically reserved for the bigger, stronger players in front, Rau has become adept at moving in and out of those dirty zones near the goal mouth.
Video: Iowa: Highlights from Game 1 vs. Milwaukee
That enthusiasm to do whatever it takes in front is fitting considering Rau's nickname with teammates and coaches: Ronda. A play on his "Rausie" moniker, Ronda was the simple evolution. And like the namesake, Ronda Rousey, the former mixed martial arts star turned professional wrestler, Rau isn't afraid to get physical with an opponent in order to win a battle.
Even if that opponent is significantly bigger than he is.
"If you score 26 goals ... you have that instinct to compete down there, and not only that, but the skill too," Army said. "He's got good, quick hands and he's really good down around the net. He's been like that all year.
"But those guys will take a beating just to score and that's what it takes to score at this level, you're not gonna score from the outside very often, you're gonna score from the guts of the ice."
'Captain Cal' leads the way as Iowa scores first-ever playoff win
Video: Iowa: Game 1 postgame vs. MIL