BISMARCK, ND – The Bismarck Bobcats closed out the 2009-10 regular season strong, pulling away from a 6-3 win over the visiting Albert Lea Thunder—their upcoming first-round playoff opponent—to sweep the Thunder out of the VFW Sports Center Saturday.
With the win, the Bobcats finish the 2009-10 campaign with a 39-11-8 record—86 points—giving them a final margin of 18 points for first place over second-seeded Owatonna (32-22-4, 68 pts).
“Knowing we’d be seeing Albert Lea here next week [to open the playoffs], we wanted to go out and send a message,” said Bobcats captain Casey Kleisinger. “We needed to put our best foot forward heading into the playoffs and show [the Thunder] what they were going to have to deal with in the first round.”
Kleisinger opened the scoring for the Bobcats Saturday, beaming a 40-foot slap shot through a Jason Fabian screen on the power play 4:35 into the game for an early 1-0 lead.
Tyler Klein followed Kleisinger’s lead just 27 seconds later, firing a low shot off the blocker of Thunder netminder Joe Rogers and into the net for a 2-0 Bobcat advantage.
The lead stayed at two goals until Klein tallied his second of the night 5:46 into the second, taking his time to pick the corner on Rogers and boost the lead to 3-0.
Klein’s linemate Sean McKenzie poured it on eight seconds later, popping home a Klein rebound while falling to the ice to make it a 4-0 game.
“You’ve got to give it up to my linemates,” said Klein, who has four goals since coming to the Bobcats from North Iowa before the trade deadline, “all three of us were really clicking and we created a lot time and space on the rush and on the forecheck, which turned into some great chances.”
The Klein-Kleisinger-McKenzie line accounted for the Bobcats’ first four goals and seven total points Saturday.
Albert Lea, however, refused to go away as former Bobcat Niko Kapetanovic lined a low shot past Bobcat goalie Ryan Faragher on an up-ice rush to put the Thunder on the board at 4-1 with 4:07 left in the second period.
Matt Johnson cut it to a two-goal game with 36 seconds left in the middle frame, turning a defensive zone turnover on the part of the Bobcats into his fourth goal of the year, sending game into the second intermission at 4-2 in favor of the home side.
“Hand it to Albert Lea,” conceded Kleisinger, “they battled all night long. They execute well and play the body better than any team we’ve played all year. That’s a scrappy team.”
The Bobcats, however, proved to be too much. Dominic Panetta turned the tables on the Thunder with 12:55 left in the game, creating a turnover in the Thunder end and beating Rogers to push the lead out to 5-2.
Ryan Jacobson tacked on some insurance with 6:40 remaining, weaving through the Albert Lea defense and ringing a wrist shot off the post and in for a 6-2 Bobcat lead.
Albert Lea capped the scoring with 56 seconds left on a Stephan Obarzanek power play score, but the game was already decided.
Faragher picked up his 23rd win of the season on 27 saves; Rogers fell to 12-19-2 with 33 stops.
The Bobcats carry a four-game winning streak into the playoffs. They open the Central Division Semifinals on Friday with a 7:15 PM contest against the Thunder at the VFW Sports Center.
Friday’s Robertson Cup Playoff opener will be broadcast locally on the radio home of Bobcat Hockey, Super Talk 1270, KLXX-AM, and worldwide at BismarckBobcats.com via B2 Networks. The pre-game show starts at 6:45 PM.
Playoff tickets for the 2010 Robertson Cup Playoffs are available now for the Bobcats’ first-round series against the Thunder! You can reserve your postseason seats by calling the Bobcat Hockey Office at 701-222-3300 or by e-mailing the office for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.