Fighting for control
The Minot Minotauros traveled to Austin for Games 1 and 2 of the North American Hockey League playoffs seeking at least a split against the top-seeded Bruins.
They accomplished just that, although their mindset changed a bit after winning Game 1, 8-6. Despite a 2-1 loss in Game 2, the Tauros are content with stealing home ice in the series for the second straight year against the Bruins.
“It’s nice to have home-ice advantage, but you can’t take anything too lightly,” Tauros forward Jadin Martin said. “We have to keep our nose down and work. They’re the No. 1 team in our division, so we’re going to have to work hard. It’s going to be a team effort like the first night.”
The Tauros hope their playoff run doesn’t end the same way it did a year ago: two losses at Maysa Arena. Minot lost Game 3, 3-2, in overtime and was eliminated from the playoffs the next night with a 1-0 defeat in Game 4. Minot would prefer not to travel back to Austin for a Game 5, as long as it means it advances to the next round instead of being eliminated from the playoffs.
“I truly think this Game 3 will determine the rest of the series,” Tauros defenseman Scott Dornbrock said. “If one team comes out flat the other team will capitalize on that.”
In two games this postseason, the Tauros have already surpassed their goal output from last year’s playoff series (5). Their eight goals in Game 1 was a franchise record for scoring in either the regular season or postseason. Minot trailed 3-1 in the first before tallying seven of the final 10 goals. Minot forwards Michael Louria and Tim Donohue each had two goals.
“We made some plays,” Tauros coach Marty Murray said. “We capitalized on a lot of our opportunities and made some nice hockey plays. It was nice to see from our guys. Maybe Austin wasn’t quite as sharp, but we took advantage of it and we were able to put the puck in the back of the net.”
It was Minot’s first win in Austin this season and just the fifth time all year the Bruins lost at home. All 10 meetings this season have been decided by two goals or fewer.
“We’re focused on Friday night and trying to get that one under our belt to get the lead in the series,” Murray said. “We know they’re going to come in here with some desperation and we have to have a better game than we did on Saturday.”
Murray said he hasn’t made a decision as to who will start in net for Game 3 tonight at 7:35 at Maysa Arena. Brandon Wildung got the start in Game 1, but lasted all of 7:18 after allowing three goals on seven shots. Merrick Madsen played the final 52:42 and picked up the win, stopping 29 of 32 shots faced. Madsen started Game 2 and was the tough-luck loser, finishing with 31 saves.
Austin goaltender Nick Lehr played all 120 minutes last weekend and is expected to do the same Friday and Saturday.
Regardless of who’s in net for either team, the Tauros are looking to play more than just one playoff series this year.
“Our coach is preaching that he doesn’t want us to be satisfied with us just making the playoffs this year,” Martin said. “Our goal is to make it all the way to the Robertson Cup, but we have to take it step by step.
Bismarck on verge of advancing
Waiting in the wings for the winner of the Tauros-Bruins series will most likely be the Bismarck Bobcats, who own a 2-0 series lead after winning the first two games in Aberdeen against the Wings.
The Bobcats, the third seed in the Central Division, posted a 4-2 victory in Game 1 and a 5-1 shellacking in Game 2, all without their defensive captain, Nate Repensky, who was lost for the year due to a leg injury suffered in their regular-season finale. Repensky led Bismarck in scoring with 50 points (12 goals, 38 assists).
Evan Giesler had the hot hand in the first two games, scoring five goals. He netted a hat trick in Game 1, tallying the Bobcats’ first three goals of the playoffs. Zach Yon recorded two goals over the weekend and 11 players tallied a point as the series shifts to Bismarck tonight and Saturday (if necessary).
The Bobcats did most of their damage in the second period, when they registered six of their nine goals. Tied 1-1 after one in the opening game, Bismarck netted three goals in the second to break it open and steal home-ice advantage from the Wings. The Bobcats added three more second-period goals the next night to put Aberdeen on the brink of elimination.
The Wings entered the series on an 11-game winning streak and had won their last six meetings with Bismarck. Aberdeen hasn’t lost three straight since late January, when it lost six in a row.
Around the NAHL playoffs
Topeka (Kan.) became the first team this year to advance to the second round, sweeping Rio Grande Valley (Texas). The RoadRunners completed the sweep with a 3-2 win in overtime Wednesday. The Killer Bees forced the extra session with two goals in the third period, but Topeka’s Jasen Fernsler ended Rio Grande Valley’s season at 14:54 of overtime.
Port Huron (Mich.), Amarillo (Texas), and Michigan all maintained home-ice advantage as they head on the road in their respective series. Port Huron, the No. 1 seed in the North Division, won both of its games by one goal against Johnstown, including a 4-3 victory in overtime in Game 2. Amarillo and Michigan had little trouble in their first two games against Wichita Falls and Janesville, respectively.
The Minnesota Wilderness staved off elimination Sunday with a 4-0 victory at home in Game 3. Their series is the only one not to follow the 2-2-1 format. Instead, the Wilderness hosted the first three games of the series and find themselves in a 2-1 hole as they head to Wenatchee (Wash.) tonight for Game 4. Game 5, if necessary, would also be in Wenatchee.
There will be at least one series that lasts all five games. In the all-Alaska series between Fairbanks and Kenai River, the Brown Bears forced a decisive Game 5 with a 4-3 victory against the Ice Dogs on Wednesday. Game 5 is Saturday in Fairbanks.
Mike Kraft covers Minot High athletics and the Minot Minotauros. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.