BISMARCK, ND–Needing to put the hammer down in shootout hockey to seal a sweep of first-place Austin, the Bobcats called on Stanislav Dzakhov (Moscow, Russia) Saturday night.
Dzakhov delivered for the second time in the game.
With his team up 1-0 at the end of the fourth round of the shootout, Dzakhov swung right, then fired a heavy wrister that made even Bobcat head coach Layne Sedevie look twice into the back of the Bruin net to seal a 4-3 win for Bismarck and a sweep Austin in the weekend series.
"It was kind of surprising, but the shot was heavy. He executed, that’s for sure. He has a great shot, and we needed it," remarked Sedevie.
The shot put to an end a matchup that was a wild ride of emotion for both teams, with massive momentum swings in both directions, with the Bobcats blowing out to a 3-0 edge with two goals by Matt Anders (Layfette, CO) just 57 seconds apart, only to lose that lead in the first seven minutes of the third on two goals by Jay Dickman, one of the top scorers in the NAHL.
Aaron Nelson (Bismarck, ND) stood tall on four tough saves in the shootout, two kick saves on opposite corners of the crease, including one of those on Dickman, and a punch that ended the final chance by the Bruins, setting up Dzakhov’s game winner.
The effort drew the Bobcats (14-7-2) within five points of the Bruins (17-7-1) for first place in the NAHL Central Division, and pushed Bismarck past Aberdeen by a point for second after the Bruins were swept by Minot.
"These games are going to give me a heart attack," quipped Sedevie after the win had time to sink in. "We saw this coming in the Central. It’s going to be a dog fight."
Dzakhov scored both first and last Saturday, knocking in a rebound from a Dan Kovar (Bismarck, ND) slap from the point with just 27 seconds left of the first period. Kovar earned the assist, one of two on the night.
Anders tried to put the game out of reach in the second. With the Bobcats on the penalty kill, a Bobcat clearing attempt awkwardly rolled to rookie Cullen Willox (Eagan, MN) in the neutral zone. Willox exploded up ice to create a 2-on-1 with Anders, and Anders cleaned his own rebound for the second Bismarck score of the night at 9:27 of the second. Willox’ assist was his 12th point in the last 12 games.
Just 53 seconds later, Anders brought the Bismarck crowd to a roar by skating free with a Kovar feed to the right circle and firing his second goal of the night past Nick Lehr, the third-best NAHL goalie in goals against average (1.39), taking the lead to 3-0 Bobcats at 10:20 of the second.
Austin fought back, starting with a short-handed score. After a Bobcat time out that preceded a 4-3 power play, the puck was turned over between defensemen in the middle of the Bruin blue line, and Josh Bretner exploited the gap, beating Nelson to cut the lead to 3-1 at 13:11 of the second.
Dickman then dominated the early third. The imposing 6’6", 225-pounder broke free and fired a puck past Nelson at 3:28 of the third. Just over three minutes later, he sent the Bobcats into a lull by driving in on the Bobcat crease, and coaxing a puck to slowly slide past the line on a deflection, tying the game at 6:42.
"We were flat for about 15 minutes after that," said Sedevie. "We bounced back and got some opportunities in overtime, but we were down for a while."
A late penalty against Anders sent the Bruins to a power play to finish regulation, and they carried about 17 seconds of it over to overtime, but the Bobcats outshot the Bruins 5-0 in the frame. The five extra minutes ran out without a winner, however, and the shootout began.
After both teams came up empty to start, Nelson stopped Niko Hildenbrand to begin the second round, and Huba Sekesi (Munich, Germany) tallied with a wrist shot for the early edge. Nelson then made a tremendous kick save against Dickman, and earned the chance for the winner by punching a Lucas Kohls effort in the corner.
Dzakhov jumped from the bench, and wasted little time, taking a short turn in the Austin zone before picking up the puck for his game-winning charge of the right circle, sealing the win in the fourth round, and bringing the crowd once again to their feet as the Bobcat bench emptied in celebration.
The Bobcats continue their four-game homestand against the Brookings Blizzard Friday night, and will engage the Minot Minotauros in a fundraiser exhibition in Dickinson, ND Tuesday night.