Time is running out on the Bismarck Bobcats, but the Brookings Blizzard played like a team that has something at stake, too.
“We’re in a good place right now, but it’s getting toward the end of the season. This is not the time of year to take any steps back,” Brookings forward Connor Koviak said following the Blizzard’s 5-1 Friday night victory.
Blizzard coach Dan Daikawa reiterated Koviak’s comments.
“We needed (the win). Every point counts now. It’s playoff hockey. They’re trying to get in and we’re trying to stay in,” Daikawa said.
With Friday’s setback, the Bobcats stand 25-26-2 with 52 points and seven regular-season games remaining. Brookings improved to 27-20-5 for 59 points. The Blizzard stands third in the NAHL’s Central Division.
Aberdeen, the team the Bobcats are pursuing for the division’s fourth and final playoff spot, defeated the Minnesota Wilderness 6-2 on Friday to up its tally to 56 points. Aberdeen also has seven games left.
Bismarck and Brookings skated to a 1-1 standoff in the first period on Friday, but the final 40 minutes belonged to Brookings.
“We cut down on our turnovers the second half of the game,” Koviak said of the team’s turnaround. “We took better care of The puck.”
Turnovers were also on the mind of Bobcats head coach and general manager Layne Sedevie,.
“They were better than us tonight. … We didn’t take care of the puck in the neutral zone, and they’re a transition team. We played right into their hands,” Sedevie observed.
Brookings put itself in the driver’s seat with two unanswered second-period goals.
With just 16 seconds elapsed, Koviak scored an almost-too-easy goal. Koviak, standing right in front of Bobcats goalie Severi Isokangas took a pass tossed in from the right wing boards and tapped it home to put the Blizzard ahead.
The visitors struck again with 4:22 to play in the middle session, Derek Hammer scoring on a rebound to give the Blizzard a 3-1 cushion.
Brookings forged a clear advantage in the second 20 minutes, outshooting the Bobcats 14-7 for a 40-minute edge of 27-14.
For the game, the shot count was 38-25 in Brookings’ favor.
The Blizzard closed out the victory with a pair of third-period markers. Forward Cade Borchardt scored from the low right circle early and defenseman Parker Revering blasted in a shot from the blue line late.
Bismarck scored first, but was unable to hang onto the lead.
Michael Mahan tallied the game’s first goal on a power play. Cooper Harr, operating behind the net, slipped the puck past the right post to Mahan, camped in front of Brookings goalie Josh Boyko. Mahan flipped the puck over Boyko at 8:49 of the first period.
Just 1:44 later, Brookings responded, defenseman Brett Callahan firing the puck home while cruising through the inside of the left circle on a pass from Koviak.
Friday’s victory was the first for Brookings at the VFW Sports Center this season. The Blizzard was 0-4 in Bismarck, including a 9-1 setback in January.
“That was probably our worst game of the year,” Koviak said. “We weren’t too happy with it.”
From Sedevie’s viewpoint, Friday’s setback makes tonight’s 7:15 rematch ultra-important.
“Tomorrow is a must-win, that’s for sure,” he noted.