BROOKINGS, SD–Playing gritty is necessary in the NAHL, but playing gritty for forty straight minutes to come from behind on the road is championship material.
The Bismarck Bobcats shook off a two goal deficit with four unanswered goals in the final two periods to blow past the Brookings Blizzard 4-2 at Larson Ice Center in Brookings Saturday night.
Stanislav Dzakhov (Moscow, Russia) assited on two goals to tie the game in the second, moving to 29 points and the team scoring lead for the season. Jacob McDowell (Dimondale, MI) notched the gamewinner in the third, and Huba Sekesi (Munich, Germany) added a crowd-silencing short-handed goal to push the game out of reach.
Bismarck (21-10-3) equalized the race in the NAHL Central Division with Austin at 45 points, while Brookings (10-19-7) fell eight points behind Minot for the final playoff spot.
Brookings’ Jeff Flicker grabbed early momentum, dashing in for a backhand score at 5:59 of the first, then redirecting a Nick DeCenzo blast at 19:00 of the period, building a 2-0 Blizzard lead after one.
That was the end of momentum for the Blizzard.
Dan Kovar (Bismarck, ND) slapped in the first Bobcat score of the night from the left point, taking a Dzakhov pass as a setup at 3:14 of the second, cutting the lead to one.
Penalty killing then took center stage when Nate Repensky was whistled for elbowing at 8:27 of the period. The penalty was initially indicated as a minor, but after a lengthy discussion by officials, was changed to a five-minute major, putting the Blizzard in the driver’s seat to rebuild their lead.
Instead, the Bobcat defenders squashed opportunities, playing most of the penalty between the blue lines, part of an effort that held the Blizzard to just seven shots on goal for the period, despite the man advantage on the major penalty.
Dzakhov then played helper for the second time tonight, pushing the puck in the right circle, stopping, then sending a crosser to Matt Anders (Lafayette, CO) to the opposite wing. Anders ripped a one-timer past Blizzard netminder Connor Girard to tie the game at 18:08 of the second.
Gritty play in the gritty are earned the Bobcats their first lead. Tyler Dunagan (Maple Grove, MN) wristed a puck into the slot, a shot knocked down by Girard.
McDowell was waiting, and, despite taking hits from defenders in both hips, swatted at the rebounded puck repeatedly, finally finding the back of the net at 6:17 of the third for a 3-2 Bobcat lead.
One final power play would come Brookings’ way, but the opportunity turned into disaster for the Blizzard and breathing room for the Bobcats. Sekesi grabbed a clearing try by Evan Giesler (Naperville, IL) along the wall at in the neutral zone with space behind the defense. He slashed across the crease, and worked five-hole against Girard for the third shorthanded goal of the Bobcat season, building the lead to 4-2 at 14:12 of the third.
A chippy game then boiled over in the final minutes. Several draws in the Bobcat end resulted in pushing and shoving from the Blizzard. As the final whistle sounded, Sekesi and Callahan both took hits from behind, leading to Blizzard forward Conrad Sampair receiving a game misconduct at 20:00 of the third.
The Bobcats return home for another showdown with Aberdeen Friday night at the VFW Sports Arena Friday night, beginning a four-game homestand. Tickets are still available by calling 222-3300 or logging on to www.bismarckbobcats.com. The Bobcats will also play an exhibition game with the Minot Minotauros Monday night in Dickinson, with faceoff scheduled for 7:00 p.m.