Second Period Burst Helps Bobcats Secure First Place
RICHFIELD, MN – Locked in a tight defensive struggle late in the second period Friday, the Bismarck Bobcats got two goals in a 4:07 span that carried them to a 4-1 win over the Minnesota Magicians at Richfield Ice Arena to clinch first place in the Central Division.
Holding a slim 1-0 lead with less than five minutes left in the middle frame, the Bobcats escaped an equalizer when goalie Hunter Shepard denied Minnesota winger Brady Heppner on a shorthanded breakaway.
Moments later, on the same power play, Travis Wood threaded a low snap shot toward the right post that forward Jared Pike redirected over the blocker of Magicians netminder Will Ulrich with 4:15 to go in the second to make it 2-0 for the Cats.
Before the period could end, the Bobcats would add one more on another deflection: Solag Bakich got a stick on Nick Wallace’s point shot, shaping it inside the right post with nine seconds left in the frame for a commanding 3-0 advantage after two.
Minnesota clawed their way back into the game with 8:10 remaining in regulation on the power play when defenseman Kyle Wagner zipped a low shot that pinballed off multiple Bobcat defenders and in past Shepard to bring the score to 3-1.
With their playoff fate in the balance, the Magicians pulled relief keeper Daniil Gerasimov with 3:03 left in the contest but struggled to create shots through the Bobcat defense. Alex Strand would put the finishing touches on the game at the 1:57 mark, stealing the puck out to center ice and arcing an 80-footer into the empty net for the final 4-1 margin.
Strand also got the scoring started for the Cats 8:49 into the contest, striking on the power play for his 26th goal of the season by fighting his own rebound in past Ulrich for the 1-0 edge that would last deep into the next period.
Shepard made a tidy 12 stops to lock down his league-best 34th win of the season. Ulrich was lifted after two periods and took the loss on 13 saves; Gerasimov turned away all seven shots he faced but did not factor into the decision.
Friday’s win sealed up the top seed in the Central Division Playoffs for the Bobcats (37-18-4, 78 pts), marking the first time they’ll enter the postseason in first place since 2012.
Minnesota (23-28-8, 54 pts) fell out of playoff contention with the loss, coupled with Brookings’ (25-28-6, 56 pts) win. The Bobcats await either the Blizzard or Aberdeen (22-26-11, 55 pts) in the first round of the postseason, pending Saturday’s results.
The Bobcats and Magicians will reconvene to close out the 2015-16 regular season Saturday with a 7:00pm rematch.
Saturday’s regular season finale will be broadcast live locally on SuperTalk 1270, KLXX-AM, the radio home of Bobcat Hockey, and worldwide online at NAHL.FASTHockey.com—the official web television partner of the North American Hockey League—with pregame coverage starting at 6:30pm.
Tickets are now on sale for the Cats’ run in the 2016 Robertson Cup Playoffs and are already going fast! Fans can buy & print their playoff tickets at BismarckBobcats.com, by clicking “Shop Now” on the team Facebook page or charge-by-phone at 222-3300 during normal business hours.