They took the long road, but the Bismarck Bobcats came away with a much-needed 7-4 NAHL triumph over Brookings on Saturday night at the VFW Sports Center.
The Bobcats took a 3-1 lead, saw the visiting Blizzard tie the game in the second period, and grabbed the win with three unanswered third-period goals.
“The biggest thing is we found a way to win in regulation,” Bobcats head coach and general manager Layne Sedevie said.
With the victory, the Bobcats improved to 26-26-2 on the season. That comes out to 54 points, three behind Aberdeen in the battle for the Central Division’s fourth and final playoff spot. Aberdeen, which has 57 points, lost in overtime to the Minnesota Wilderness on Saturday.
Both Bismarck and Aberdeen have six regular-season games remaining, but they don’t face each other again.
Deadlocked at 4-4 after two periods, Saturday’s game appeared headed for overtime after 16 scoreless in the third period.
Then the Bobcats closed with a flourish.
Bobcats forward Tristan Ashbrook ended the standoff with 3:29 to play. Grant Johnson won a faceoff in the left circle, the puck went to Ashbrook and he converted on a high shot that eluded Brookings goalie Josh Boyko.
Lukas Millen added an insurance marker with 56 seconds to play, and Nick Alexander closed things out with an empty-net tally with 15 seconds on the clock.
The centerpiece of the game was a wild and wooly second period that featured four goals, two penalty shots and two fighting majors. When it was all over, the game stood 4-4.
Down two goals, Brookings pulled ahead with a three-goal burst in the first 12 minutes of the second period. Brenden Stanko scored on a 2-on-2 break, Tim Faulkner pounded in a power play goal from the blue line and Brandon Kruse came through on a penalty shot to put the Blizzard ahead 4-3.
Bismarck forward Zach Kennedy answered the Brookings surge with 4:20 left in the period, lifting a rebound over Boyko.
The Bobcats had a chance to pull ahead with 3 minutes to play in the middle period on a penalty shot, but Cooper Harr’s attempt hit the crossbar, leaving the contest a 4-4 standoff.
After surrendering the game’s initial goal early in the first period, the Bobcats bounced back with a vengeance to take a 3-1 lead.
Brandon Kruse of Brookings scored with just over a minute elapsed to give the Blizzard, 5-1 winners on Friday, a 1-0 lead.
Bobcats defenseman Chase Hartje struck on a shot from the top of the right circle at 6:46 to ignite a three-goal flurry.
Bobcats forward Michael Mahan found the net twice in 20 seconds to put the hosts in the lead.
On Mahan’s first goal, defenseman Jiei Halliday fired a perimeter shot through traffic on a power play. The puck hit Mahan en route to the net and took an erratic high bounce that eluded the glove of a leaping Boyko. The disc plopped in the net behind Boyko to give Bismarck a 2-1 lead.
Mahan zipped a rebound past Boyko 20 seconds later and the Bobcats had their first two-goal lead of the series.
Sedevie said the victory was truly a team effort.
“We don’t win tonight if we don’t play as a team,” he noted.
A tug-of-war game like Saturday’s victory shows a team’s mettle, Sedevie said.
“That’s character. They (the Blizzard) are a good hockey team, and they played well. I told the guys after 20 (minutes) that the season was on the line. … I’m really excited about that group of young men in our locker room. They played hard tonight,” he observed.