Tauros’ season ends in triple-OT thriller

The Minot Minotauros entered Saturday’s Game 4 tilt with the Austin Bruins looking to make a bit of history by winning their first home playoff contest in program history and, thus, extending their season for at least another game.

That piece of team history will have to wait at least another season, but the Tauros did etch themselves into the record book by playing the longest game in North American Hockey League history in their season-ending 4-3 loss to the Bruins in triple overtime.

A total of 1:56:58 were played, establishing a new league mark. The marathon game reached its end at approximately 12:20 a.m. Sunday when Austin’s Lucas Kohls knocked in a rebound in front of the net at 16:58 of the third overtime to send the Bruins to the second round of the playoffs. They will play the Bismarck Bobcats beginning Friday in Austin.

“You could pretty much tell that it’s going to be a shot and a rebound and somebody winning a race to the net and that’s what happened,” Tauros coach Marty Murray said. “We had a few chances and Brandon made some big saves throughout the game to give us a chance. Tough to lose like that, but our guys battled hard.”

The game, which bested the previous record by 3:11, spanned nearly five hours and included a total of 124 shots and 12 power plays. Minot’s game ended at approximately the same time as Wenatchee’s 1-0 victory over the Minnesota Wilderness, a contest that started two hours later.

“As the time kept coming, we kept trading chances,” Austin coach Chris Tok said. “Your heart would flutter and it could have gone either way. Quite frankly, it’s terrible that somebody has to lose that game because it was a pretty well-played game by both teams.”

After scoring six goals in the first two periods, the teams played to a scoreless draw in the third period and first two overtimes. Both teams had opportunities to win it well before heading to a third overtime. Austin had the first power-play opportunity following the end of regulation, but couldn’t come up with the game-winner. The Tauros had back-to-back chances with the man advantage at the tail end of the first overtime, but struggled to generate any offense.

“Both teams were mentally and physically exhausted,” Murray said. “We battled, leading for most of the game. We battled and that’s all we can ask for from our guys.”

The first period was dominated by the Bruins, who fired 16 shots on Tauros goaltender Brandon Wildung, but it was Minot that found the back of the net with a late charge.

Tauros forward Tim Donohue netted his third goal of the postseason, burying a one-timer past Austin netminder Nick Lehr with 1:32 left in the first. Skating in on a 2-on-1, Cameron Rowat found Donohue with a circle-to-circle pass that the Tauros captain lifted over a sprawling Lehr.

Minot came back 11 seconds later to take a 2-0 lead when Luke Voltin slid a shot five-hole by Lehr. The Tauros took the two-goal lead into the first intermission after trailing by the same score after one the previous night.

Austin got on the board first to start the second period as Easton Vitala cut Minot’s lead to 2-1 at 5:54. Vitala beat Wildung over his stick-side shoulder with a shot from the left faceoff circle.

The Tauros re-established their two-goal lead four minutes later when Jake Johnson collected his own rebound that clanked off the pipe and fired it inside the same post he hit seconds earlier.

The Bruins netted consecutive power-play goals to tie the game at 3 after two periods. Trey Dodd scored 17 seconds into Scott Dornbrock’s roughing penalty and Kohls lit the lamp just nine seconds after the Tauros were whistled for having too many men on the ice.

“The power play definitely helped,” Tok said. “We hadn’t scored a power-play goal until this game. We made a couple adjustments to try and create more good looks at the net and actually scored on two. That allowed us to get back in the game.”

Wildung finished with a career-high 67 saves, while Lehr made 50 for the Bruins.

Mike Kraft covers Minot High athletics and the Minot Minotauros. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.