ABERDEEN, SD – The Bismarck Bobcats rattled off four straight goals and held on to secure passage to their fourth straight appearance in the Central Division Finals with a 5-3 victory Saturday over the Aberdeen Wings at Odde Ice Center, winning their first-round series over the Wings three games to one.
Leading 1-0 after one, the Bobcats saw the Wings even the score 3:03 into the second period when Joseph Sullivan banged a Paul Prescott rebound past Bobcat goalie Aaron Nelson.
Sullivan’s goal came amidst a Wings rally to open the second that saw the fourth-seeded Aberdeen side outshoot the Bobcats 11-0.
Castan Sommer put a halt to the Wings’ momentum, though, 2:47 later on an up-ice rush when he burned a low liner past the blocker of Aberdeen netminder Marcus Zelzer to post the Cats to a 2-1 lead.
“Big-time players made big-time plays, and we needed guys like Castan to step up [Saturday],” noted Bobcats head coach and general manager Layne Sedevie, whose playoff record improved to 12-9 in two seasons with the win. “We knew they were going to start throwing the kitchen sink at us with maybe 40 minutes left in their season, and for Castan to score in a situation like that tells you what kind of heart this team has.”
Picture-perfect puck movement by the Bobcats made it a 3-1 game with 10:47 left in the middle frame as Adam Knochenmus finished an in-tight give-and-go with Danny Ray on a 3-on-1 rush.
It was Knochenmus’ second of the night and third on the weekend.
“Frank [DeAugustine] set it all up by drawing in the defense and giving Danny, Bryce [Anderson] and I room for the 3-on-1,” recalled Knochenmus, who was acquired by the Bobcats in late September from the Alexandria Blizzard. “Once Bryce had some room he put it down to me, I dropped to Danny and he gave it right back to me and I had a little four-foot putt.”
Sommer tacked on even more insurance late in the second, redirecting a power play point shot from John Furgele over Zelzer to extend the lead to 4-1 with 2:23 left in the middle frame.
Dan Zawacki put a cap on the Cats’ four-goal rally 4:21 into the third, one-timing a low shot on a back-door feed from Shane Omdahl past a sprawling Zelzer to run the lead out to 5-1.
Aberdeen, however, hung tough with the top seeds, battling to within 5-2 with 10:47 left in regulation when Justin Parizek put back an Oliver Widding-Persson rebound, igniting Aberdeen’s sold-out crowd around a potential rally.
The two teams traded matching penalties twice in the final minutes, including misconduct penalties on Prescott and Bobcat blueliner Grant Mindt and a game ejection for Wings assistant coach Garrett Roth following a heated exchange with the referees.
Roth’s ouster only served to further rile up Aberdeen’s boisterous fans, who exploded when Sullivan tallied his second of the night on the power play with 2:36 left in regulation to bring the game back within reach for the Wings at 5-3.
Nelson and the Bobcat defense, however, clamped down after Sullivan’s second strike, not allowing another shot the rest of the way to secure the series with a 5-3 final.
Century High product Nelson made 41 saves to improve to 2-0 in the playoffs; Zelzer managed 28 stops but finished the playoffs with a 1-3 mark.
Knochenmus started the Bobcats off on the right foot Saturday, diving across Zelzer’s crease and swinging a loose puck into the net 13:29 into the game to give the Bobcats a 1-0 lead.
The Bobcats now move on to the Central Division Finals where they will face the Austin Bruins, who also won their Central Division Semifinal series three games to one over Alexandria with a 3-2 home win Saturday.
The curtain will rise on the Division Finals Friday with Game One against the Bruins at the VFW Sports Center, with the opening puck drop scheduled for 7:15 PM.
Tickets will go on sale Sunday for the second-round series; fans can call the box office at 222-3300 to reserve their seats or buy and print online at BismarckBobcats.com.
Friday’s series lid-lifter will be broadcast locally on the radio home of Bobcat Hockey, Super Talk 1270, KLXX-AM, and worldwide on the official internet television partner of the NAHL, FASTHockey, at http://nahl.fasthockey.com. Pregame coverage gets under way at 6:45.