AUSTIN, MN – The Bismarck Bobcats are back on the road for a pair of pivotal road playoff contests against the Austin Bruins starting Friday at Riverside Arena with their best-of-five-game Central Division Final series tied at 1-1 through two games.
Following a home split last weekend, the Bobcats are looking to replicate the hostile-environment success they enjoyed in the first round, where they won back-to-back contests at a rowdy Odde Ice Center in Aberdeen.
“It definitely fires our guys up to go out and play in a crazy road barn,” said Bobcats head coach and general manager Layne Sedevie, noting that the Bruins averaged over 1,600 home fans per game in the first round against Alexandria. “Aberdeen is one of the toughest places to play and we know that Riverside will be rocking this weekend, so hopefully our guys can harness that and use it to our advantage.”
The Bobcats will need to control the transition game of the Bruins if they want to get back ahead in the series on Friday, as the Bruins have scored five of their seven goals in the Division Finals on the rush, including Joe Siers’ Game Two overtime winner.
“A lot of our transition defense will come down to we forwards playing well in support, on the backcheck,” explained Bobcats winger Castan Sommer, who leads the Bobcats in playoff scoring with 11 points. “If we can support the ‘D,’ it will cut down on the number of odd-man rushes Austin gets, which is where a lot of their offense comes from.”
On the other side, the Bobcat power play is hoping to continue its hot run; the Bobcat man advantage has started the second round by posting a 3-for-4 performance.
Despite a league playoff-best 38.1% efficiency on the power play, the Bobcats are maintaining a healthy respect for Austin’s stout penalty kill.
“The Bruins kill penalties so well, and it’s no secret how they do it: strong pressure along the boards,” relayed Sedevie, whose team went 12-for-64 in the regular season against the Austin ‘PK,’ including giving up two shorthanded strikes to the Bruins along the way. “They want you to go to the half-wall, and if you do they’ll eat you up. It puts an increased importance on our guys on the wall on the power play, Danny Ray and Castan Sommer, because their decisions can make or break it.”
Sedevie will have a tough decision in net for Friday between second-year veteran Tommy Burke, who led the league in regular-season wins with 31, and rookie Aaron Nelson, who won three straight playoff games before Saturday’s overtime setback.
Unlike Game One, where Sedevie indicated early in the week that Nelson would be his man between the pipes, the Bobcat bench boss has not tipped his hand on his Game Three starter, calling it “a game-time decision.”
Austin is expected to once again start veteran goalie Tyler Bruggeman, who has posted a 4-2 playoff record—appearing in all six Bruins postseason contests—with a 2.76 GAA and a .920 SV% so far.
One big question mark for the Bruins will be top blueliner Christian Folin, who missed significant time near the end of the season and, despite reportedly returning to practice last week, has not suited up for a playoff game in 2012 for Austin.
The puck drops on Game Three at 7:05 PM Friday at Riverside Arena, with Game Four to follow at the same time Saturday in Austin.
Should a decisive Game Five be necessary, it is scheduled for 7:15 PM back in Bismarck at the VFW Sports Center.
Every Bobcat playoff game 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 6:35 Friday. Fans can watch Friday’s game—and all away contests—live at Reza’s Pitch at Third and Front in Bismarck, the official away game home of Bobcat Hockey.