The Bismarck Bobcats held a high-flying Aberdeen offense in check for most of the game on Saturday night.
Then came the third period.
The Wings managed only one goal through two periods, but pulled away in the third for a 4-0 NAHL Central Division victory at the VFW Sports Center. It was Aberdeen’s 16th straight win and it came one night after the Wings pummeled the Bobcats 7-1.
“They’re a hot team right now and I thought the effort was there tonight. We had our chances, but it got away from us in the third period,” said Bismarck assistant coach Garrett Roth. “If we had capitalized on some opportunities early on, it might have turned out different. We played better than we did last night, but give Aberdeen credit. They’re playing great hockey.”
Roth said Aberdeen’s defense and goaltender Matt Vernon were exceptional for the second night in a row. Vernon finished with 28 saves.
“Vernon has played exceptionally well the last 16 games, especially the last four games he’s played against us. He made some outstanding saves out there tonight,” he said. “When you’re up against a hot goalie like that, you try to put as many shots on goal as you can and hope a few find their way into the net. The shots were there both nights, but we couldn’t capitalize.”
The Wings improved to 29-5-2 and now own a 14-point lead over Austin in the division standings. Bismarck (19-16-1, 39 points) remains in fifth place, three points behind the fourth-place Minnesota Wilderness and four behind third-place Minot. With 24 games remaining, the Bobcats have some ground to make up to get into the postseason. They will take on the Wilderness Friday and Saturday in a key road series.
“Twenty-four games might seem like a lot, but it isn’t. We have some big games coming up with the Wilderness and we need to win those head-to-head games,” Roth said. “We had a tough series (against Aberdeen), but we have to bounce back. I think we’re more than capable of that.”
The Bobcats outshot the Wings 8-7 in the first period, but Aberdeen posted the frame’s only goal. Joe Strada scored unassisted 5:01 into the contest.
Bismarck put 12 shots on goal while limiting Aberdeen to nine in a scoreless second period, but the Wings broke through a second time with 17:15 remaining in the third. The Wings had a 5-on-3 advantage when Strada netted his second goal of the game and 13th of the season.
“They had a two-man advantage and made the most of it. Strada made a great play,” Roth said. “It was a huge goal. That gave them some breathing room and they took it from there.”
Less than five minutes later, at the 12:18 mark, John Stadic’s 13th goal made it 3-0. Later, Thomas Rocco netted his 10th goal of the season with 6:38 left to close the scoring.