Down by a goal early in the third period, the Bismarck Bobcats buzzed the Minot net and pressured goaltender Samu Lonkila time after time.

Lonkila was up to the challenge – finishing with 33 saves (25 of them in the final 40 minutes) to help seal a 5-3 NAHL victory on Friday night at the VFW Sports Center.

“We relied on our goalie a little too much at times but he came through,” Minotauros coach Marty Murray said.

“I don’t think we played badly. I thought we worked hard,” Bobcats coach and general manager Layne Sedevie said. “I thought we worked really hard in the third period, we had a really good jump and we just couldn’t find the game-tier. I don’t think it was for lack of effort.

“I told them after the game, if we play with that effort for 60 minutes, we win this hockey game. And that’s got to be a teaching point, a lesson learned that you have to play 60 minutes.”

After the Bobcats swarmed Lonkila in vain looking for the equalizer, Miroslav Mucha put the game on ice with his second goal of the game. Mucha scored at 14:22 – lunching a rocket that hit the crossbar and bounced down and into the net for his 21st goal of the season and a 5-3 lead.

“We had a couple of breakdowns, obviously against their top line, which is really good,” Sedevie said. “They’re going to make you pay and they did tonight.”

Cooper Haar gave the Bobcats an early lead, but it was short-lived.

Haar scored his fifth goal of the season, coming off a pair of nice passes from Lukas Millen and Alex Pollock, at 14:11 to give the home team a 1-0 lead.

Just minutes later, Minot evened it up. Austin Dollimer took advantage of a Bobcats turnover in their own zone, notching his eighth goal of the season at 16:45 to tie it up.

The Minotauros took the lead just 25 seconds before the first intermission. With Noah Bormann in the penalty box for holding, Minot was buzzing the net late in the period. Mucha put the puck past Ryan Ullan at 19:35. His 20th goal of the season – his first of the night – gave the visitors a one-goal cushion after one period.

“I thought it was a pretty big part of the game, when they got the first one and we bounced back and got two pretty quick ones after that,” Murray said. “I thought that kind of got us rolling a little bit.

“Give Bismarck credit. They pushed back when we got up by two.”

Twice in the second period, the Minotauros scored just seconds after a power-play opportunity expired.

But goals by Joseph Mancuso and Jacob Marti kept the Bobcats in striking distance.

Andrew Kangas scored off an assist by Dollimer just moments after the Bobcats killed a power-play opportunity at 10:10, giving the Minotauros a 3-1 lead.

But the Bobcats answered in a flash.

Just 13 seconds later, Grant Johnson won a faceoff in the Minot zone, getting the puck over to Mancuso, who blasted a rocket past Lonkila into the net. Mancuso’s seventh tally of the season made it 3-2.

Minot regained the momentum minutes later when Jake Rosenbaum lit the lamp just after another power play expired, giving the Tauros back a two-goal cushion at 4-2.

But Bismarck got right back in it when Marti scored off an assist from Harr, converting on a shorthanded 2-on-1 breakaway at 15:21. Marti’s third goal of the year pulled the Bobcats within a goal at 4-3.

Ullan stopped 32 shots in goal for Bismarck.

With the way the NAHL Central Division standings are bunched together – all five teams came into Friday within four points of each other – every win and every point is crucial. Minot picked up a big road win in the opening game of the three-game weekend series.

“It was a big one,” Murray said. “I don’t know if it was pretty all the time, but you kind of expect that coming off a 10-day break. It was a good hockey game, back and forth. Either team could have won tonight.”

“They’re huge,” Sedevie said. “Every game for the rest of the year is going to be huge with the way the standings are, so we’ve got to forget about it. We’ve got two more games, so we’ve got to try to get four points.”

“A big win,” Murray said. “We’ve got to put it behind us. Got another tough one tomorrow.”

The teams continue their weekend series tonight at 7:35 p.m. at Maysa Arena in Minot, then return to the VFW Sports Center on Sunday at 7:15 p.m. for the annual New Year’s Eve game.

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