BISMARCK, ND – The Bismarck Bobcats rattled off three straight goals and seized a one-game-to-none lead in their best-of-five Central Division Semifinal series with a 4-2 win Friday over the Albert Lea Thunder at the VFW Sports Center.
On a night where two other number-one seeds fell victim to the upset bug, the Bobcats battled back from two different one-goal deficits to claim the Game One victory.
The first deficit came 2:50 into the game when Thunder power forward Anthony Iaquinto rolled a low shot through traffic between the legs of Bobcat netminder Jake Williams for the early 1-0 Thunder lead.
The ‘Cats battled back for the equalizer nearly eight minutes later on the power play when Sean McKenzie swept a centering feed from Casey Kleisinger through Thunder goalie Joe Rogers’ five-hole with 9:33 left in the first.
Albert Lea seized their second lead of the game with 6:22 remaining in the opening frame on a 2-on-2 when leading scorer Niko Kapetanovic fired a rising snap shot off Williams’ shoulder and in for a 2-1 edge for the visitors.
“I take full responsibility for both goals,” Williams confessed. “Those are saves I normally make. I feel fortunate that I was able to settle down and give our team a chance to get back and get the win.”
The home side came out strong in the second period when Tim Serratore took a deflection pass from Ryan Jacobson in for a mini-breakaway and beat Rogers with a left-to-right deke to force another tie at 2-2 just 1:34 into the middle frame.
“The biggest thing we did was keep coming at [Albert Lea] shift after shift,” said Serratore. “We didn’t play badly in the first even though we were down on the scoreboard, so we just kept playing hard and battling and things finally turned our way.”
With the game tied at two following the second intermission, the Bobcats continued to apply pressure in the third—eventually resulting in Dominic Panetta one-timing a Serratore centering feed home 7:44 into the third to give the ‘Cats their first lead of the night at 3-2.
Trent Johnson added a measure of insurance for the home side five minutes later, deflecting a Panetta effort past Rogers for the 4-2 lead with 6:53 left in regulation.
Over the final six-plus minutes, the Bobcats kept the Thunder at bay, not allowing them to create extended possession in the Bismarck end, stymieing them through the neutral zone even after they pulled Rogers for the extra attacker with 1:52 to go—preserving the 4-2 win.
“We’re really excited to get the win here [Friday],” said Panetta, “but this series is far from over. Albert Lea is a tough team and they’re going to give us a heck of a time [Saturday]. We’re feeling good, but it’s definitely no time to get cocky.”
Williams bounced back from a rough first period to make 24 saves, earning his first career playoff victory.
For the third straight game at the VFW, Rogers stopped over 30 shots but lost; making 34 saves in defeat.
In other playoff action, Owatonna outlasted Alexandria for a 7-6 in overtime in the other Central Division Semifinal win while South Division top seed Topeka fell 4-1 at home to Springfield and North Division winner Marquette dropped a 5-2 decision at home to Motor City.
The Bobcats and Thunder will resume their Central Division Semifinal series Saturday at the VFW Sports Center with a 7:15 PM puck drop.
Saturday’s postseason contest 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.