Playoff hockey is a strange animal that sometimes seems unrelated to its regular-season counterpart.
Minot and Bismarck worked like dogs for 57 minutes to squeak out a 1-1 tie.
Then, in the final three minutes, Minot outscored the Bobcats 2-1 for a 3-2 NAHL playoff victory Friday night at the VFW Sports Center.
Minot forward Taylor Lantz notched the game-winner with 20 seconds to play to give the Minotauros a three-game sweep in the semifinal round of the Central Division playoffs.
Minot begins the divisional championship next week against Aberdeen. Bismarck’s season comes to a disappointing end after a sensational second half.
Minot’s Sam Skinner scored in the first period and Jacob Marti answered for Bismarck in the second period.
Things were still deadlocked at one-all when things turned frantic.
Didrik Henbrant scored what appeared to be the game-winner for Minot when he notched a power-play goal with 2:55 to play.
Yet there was much more to come.
Adam Stacho came back to score for Bismarck with 33 seconds on the clock after Bobcats coach and general manager Layne Sedevie pulled goalie John Roberts in the final minute.
When overtime appeared certain, Lantz scored on a well-executed play, breaking in from the right circle with five seconds on the clock.
“Well, that’s playoff hockey,” Minot coach Marty Murray observed. “They came back and tied it up, and I think everyone in the building was expecting overtime. Then we execute our best 3-on-2 of the season with three good passes. It was a heck of a play.”
Keenan Lund fed Andrew Kangas, who made a cross-ice pass to Lantz on the right side.
Murray said pulling out an almost miraculous win is tough enough. Doing it on the road is even tougher.
“The Bismarck arena is a very difficult place to win in. I’m not surprised it came down to the last two seconds,” he observed.
Murray said playoff experience is a valuable commodity in games like Friday’s hair-raiser.
“We have a lot of veteran players, and that certainly helps,” he noted. “I’m proud of our guys. Bismarck was probably the better team most of the last two periods, but our guys stuck with it and ground out a win.”
Minot was in command most of the first period, outshooting the Bobcats 8-1 in the early going. Minot goalie Nicholas Grabko didn’t have to make a stop until 8:58 was elapsed, and that came on a loose puck that slid down from the neutral zone.
That pressure resulted in the first goal of the game at 3:21. Skinner took a feed from Kangas and charged down the right side of the slot. He fired around a defender and hit the upper right corner of the net.
Minot took two penalties in the final nine minutes of the first period, which enabled the Bobcats to generate some momentum. Shots were even at 4-4 over the final nine minutes of the period.
The second period was another story. Bismarck came out flying and never let up, keeping the Minotauros penned up in their own end for virtually the entire session.
Bismarck launched 14 shots at Grabko, while Minot responded with just three on-net attempts.
When it appeared Minot would withstand Bismarck’s 14-shot onslaught, the Bobcats broke through with 1:28 to play. Ryan Robinson fed a pass from behind the goal line to the left of the net, which Jacob Marti converted from short range.
Marti’s tally made it a 1-1 game with 20 minutes to play.
Murray said putting the Bobcats away was no mean feat.
“I thought Bismarck played a really strong game,” he noted.