PEORIA — The Birmingham Bulls have been chasing the Peoria Rivermen in the standings all season.

They likely won't catch the first-place Rivermen there, but they did catch up to them on the ice with 91 seconds to spare Friday in a long-awaited first meeting of the season between the SPHL's top two teams.

The Rivermen got a goal from captain Alec Hagaman to break up a scoreless goaltending duel in the third period, but couldn't quite hang on, surrendering a tying goal with 91 seconds to play, going through sudden-death overtime, and eventually losing to the Bulls 2-1 in a shootout tiebreaker before 3,359 at Carver Arena.

The Rivermen have won 13 of 16 and exited the night with a 30-4-5 record and nine-point lead over Birmingham. Peoria's magic number to clinch a playoff spot is one point.

It was a next-level game from the get-go, centered around terrific goaltending as 21-game winner Mavric Parks held Birmingham in the game and league No. 1-ranked Steve Klein took a shutout into the final two minutes.

"The Rivermen are a helluva team, they are everything their record shows," Parks graciously said after stopping three of four Peoria challengers in the penalty-shot tiebreaker. "We knew what a challenge this game would be.

"We got a lucky bounce there and tied it -- I was looking at our bench and was just seconds from coming off for an extra attacker when it happened.

"It was a good character win for us, but make no mistake, no one earned a trophy for a victory tonight."

That could come later this spring, if either of these two teams are fortunate enough to reach the SPHL playoffs.

"That was like a playoff game tonight," said Rivermen head coach Jean-Guy Trudel, who sent his team home for vacation for five days before re-assembling to skate on Thursday. "Not a bad start back for us. Two really good teams, really good game. Klein was great. Parks made four or five unbelievable saves, and in overtime I thought we had it won three different times.

"We had a chance to see each other on the ice, but for us it was just another game in our process, and I guarantee you they feel the same way."

Hagaman hit the right post and the left post against Parks earlier in the game, before finally breaking up the scoreless tie on a beauty of a goal.

Drake Hunter moved the puck ahead to Ben Blasko, who then backhanded a pass from the right circle to the doorstep. Hagaman charged across the slot and one-timed it up and over Parks' stick shoulder for 1-0 at 7:11 of the third period.

"That game was a real battle," Hagaman said. "We had a lot of offensive chances, just didn't get them finished. We tell ourselves all the time not to make a mistake in the final five minutes, and we did that tonight and it went into our net at the end. Tough outcome in a game we played well."

Birmingham's Shane Topf got that tying goal with 91 seconds left in regulation when he picked up a rebound from above the crease and put it past Klein.

The Rivermen had Parks sprawling in the overtime, dominating play.

Peoria's No. 1-ranked offense was a story of big chances, met with bigger stops by Parks.

Pijus Rulevicius walked in from the right circle and lifted a shot over the crossbar in the first period. In the first three minutes of the second period, Peoria center Justin Greenberg's one-timer from the bottom of the right circle went into Parks' chest; Greenberg came open 45 seconds later for an uncontested shot from the left hashmarks, but missed wide and looked up toward the rafters in dismay; and Austin Vieth picked off a pass along the Birmingham blueline for a shorthanded walk-in that Parks sticked aside.

And on it went, as the chances mounted and so did the saves from Parks and Klein.

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RIVER READINGS: Rivermen center Ben Blasko's assist extended his SPHL-high point-scoring streak to 16 games. ... Birmingham's visit here was its only meeting of the season in Peoria. ... The Bulls roster included former Rivermen Jacob Barber and Josh Harris ... Peoria Chiefs part-owner and Bradley University exec Rocky Vonachen was in the house. ... Meet the parents: Birmingham center Barber's family was on hand, including his parents and his sister, Kate. She is dating Rivermen defenseman Ben Oskroba, who's family was also in attendance.

Dave Eminian covers the Rivermen for the Journal Star, and writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. Reach him at 686-3206 or deminian@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.