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Johnny Roberts never had a chance to take much of a breather on Friday night.

The Bismarck Bobcats goaltender was challenged over and over, but he came up big to help his team to a big win during the playoff push.

Bismarck scored two early goals to grab an early lead, and Roberts stopped 44 shots in goal in a 4-2 win over NHL Central Division leader Aberdeen at the VFW Sports Center.

“I had a pretty easy first 10 minutes,” Roberts said. “Then after that I got into the game and it’s really easy to play a game when you’re seeing shots every couple of minutes because you stay focused the whole time and you can’t really let up. I think those are easier games than the ones where you face 15 or 16 shots.”

The Bobcats jumped out to an early lead, getting two goals in the opening 3 minutes and 2 seconds.

Michael Mahan got Bismarck on the board first, finishing off an assist from Alex Pollock at 2:36 to give the home team early momentum.

Just 24 seconds later, Alex Trombley picked up the puck in the Aberdeen zone, rushed in on goal and went backhand for his fourth goal of the season and a 2-0 Bobcats advantage.

“It was big,” Bobcats coach Layne Sedevie said of the fast start. “I don’t think we kept our foot on the gas, unfortunately. I think they outshot us 14-1 after that in the first period. They kept coming. But at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. Dog days of junior hockey it doesn’t matter how you get two points. We got two points.”

Aberdeen got on the board late in the opening period as Adam Pitters snuck the puck just inside the post at 16:45, pulling the Wings within a goal.

The Wings outshot the Bobcats 16-4 over the first 20 minutes, but Roberts turned aside 16 shots to take a 2-1 lead into the second period. Matt Vernon made two saves on four shots in the first period for Aberdeen.

“He’s obviously really good,” Sedevie said. “The last time he saw these guys he had something like 44 stops. We just have to do a better job of limiting their chances. I thought we did an OK job at times not giving up second and third chances but I thought his rebound control was good, too. Johnny has just been an absolute stud for us.”

Aberdeen kept putting pressure on the Bobcats in the second period, outshooting Bismarck 17-9, but Roberts was up to the task. The Lansdale, Penn., native made several big stops to preserve the lead, and Sam Malinski made it a two-goal lead again with just under seven minutes to go in the period.

“That was a big period,” Roberts said. “Our guys, we fought really hard. They got some bounces in the second period that led to some opportunities but everyone stuck to the game plan and we made some good clears.”

Malinski’s blast through traffic beat Vernon to make it 3-1 Bobcats.

“In the second I thought there was a lot of play down at the other end,” Sedevie said. “We win a draw, we make a nice play and it ends up in the back of the net. I think it kind of put them back on their heels a bit.”

Roberts turned aside all 17 shots he faced in the period, giving him 32 saves through 40 minutes.

Colton Fletcher’s power-play goal at 5:12 of the third pulled Aberdeen back within a goal.

But Roberts kept making stops and preserving the lead, and Cooper Haar’s empty-net goal at 18:51 sealed the win.

The two teams square off again tonight.

“They’re the first-place team, they’re a very good hockey team,” Sedevie said. “We see them obviously quite a bit down the stretch here and we’ve got to do anything we can to get points, as crowded as the standings are right now.”

“Every game matters. This division is so close, every team is really good,” Roberts said.

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