Bobcats Outdueled by Lehr, Bruins in Game One
AUSTIN, MN – The Bismarck Bobcats saw their season-high seven-game win streak end as the Austin Bruins got big nights from goalie Nick Lehr and forward C.J. Smith en route to a 4-2 defeat of the Bobcats in Game One of the best-of-five Central Division Finals.
Lehr posted 38 saves for his fourth win of the postseason and fifth straight victory overall; Smith poured in a hat trick for his first three goals of the 2013 playoffs.
With their first regulation loss since March 1 and first defeat of any kind since March 16, the Bobcats now trail the divisional final one game to none.
Smith got the party started quickly for the top-seeded Bruins, netting back-to-back goals in transition on feeds from Chris Fischer in a 15-second span to post the home side to a 2-0 lead with 17:39 to go in the first period.
At the other end, the Bobcats battled Lehr just as much as they did bad luck, ringing posts and breaking sticks on wide-open one-timers.
“It was just one of those nights,” lamented rookie defender Nate Repensky. “We couldn’t get many bounces early on and by the time we got on track, Lehr was on fire.”
Lehr, a second-year goalie out of Roseville, Minn., made five critical stops on a Bobcat power play late in the first to keep the lead at two after one.
Cory Chapman finally dragged the Bobcats onto the scoreboard with 10:33 left in the second, grabbing a Dan Kovar rebound off the back wall and firing it through Lehr’s five-hole to chop the lead to one at 2-1.
Austin answered back on the stick of John Simonson as the veteran center created contact with Bobcat netminder Aaron Nelson while deflecting a Kody Reuter shot in with 1:48 to go in the middle frame.
Seth Blair, who entered Friday with the most points of any skater in the NAHL playoffs, nearly pulled it back to within one with just one second left on a one-timer from Bob Kinne, but was rebuked by Lehr on a dazzling right-to-left kick save a moment before the horn.
“That save right there was a game-changer,” credited Bobcats head coach and general manager Layne Sedevie. “We get that goal, the third period might look a lot different. Nick made some big-time saves throughout the night; hats off to him.”
In the third, the Bobcats were again able to battle to within one at 3-2 on Stan Dzakhov’s third strike of the playoffs as the Russian-born winger redirected a rising Matt Pohlkamp shot out of mid-air and in with 14:34 left.
Smith, however, would get the last laugh for the Bruins, completing the hat trick by firing home a loose puck after Bobcat blueliner Jeremy O’Keefe blocked back-to-back scoring chances from Fischer for another two-goal lead at 4-2 just 2:24 after Dzakhov’s tally.
Lehr took over there for the Bruins, denying a golden opportunity for Shane Omdahl late and getting some more help from his posts as Pohlkamp rang the iron in the final minute on the power play. The veteran keeper finished with 38 saves on the night.
“We had about 15 grade-A scoring chances and only two goals,” illustrated Sedevie, “so that tells you how hot Lehr was. We also had two or three posts hit and a lot of good opportunities that never hit the net; our guys need to clean up their execution for [Game Two].”
Nelson finished with just 20 saves and couldn’t avoid his first loss of the 2013 playoffs.
Facing down their first series deficit of this postseason, the Bobcats will try and salvage a weekend split Saturday with Game Two scheduled for a 7:05 PM puck drop at Riverside Arena.
Saturday’s rematch 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 6:40 PM.