AUSTIN, MN - The Bismarck Bobcats built a big lead and survived a furious rally to tip the Austin Bruins 3-2 Friday in Game Three of the Central Division Finals at Riverside Arena to gain a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five-game series.
Battling through early adversity in their first road contest of the Central Finals that saw them outshot by a 6-1 margin through the first ten minutes of the game, the Bobcats managed to claw their way to a 1-0 lead on the rush as a Castan Sommer shot deflected off a Bruin defender and in past Austin goalie Tyler Bruggeman with 4:22 left in the opening frame.
"We definitely did not have the start to the game we wanted, so I just wanted to get something to the net to try and get us going," explained Sommer, who now leads the league in playoff goals with seven. "On the way, though, it hit one of their 'D' and took a weird bounce-a lucky bounce, for us."
Despite holding an early 5-1 shot advantage in the second period, the Bobcats could not get back at Bruggeman, who seemed to gain confidence as the middle frame progressed.
A mere 21 seconds of power play time after a 4-on-4, however, turned the tide back to the Bobcats as Jeremy O'Keefe floated a shot from the blue line that Patrick Moore deflected over Bruggeman's glove to boost the Cats to a 2-0 with 7:28 left in the second.
Following a hectic flurry in front of Bobcat netminder Aaron Nelson late in the second, the Bobcats broke out down the ice as Adam Knochenmus rushed ahead with Shane Omdahl on a 2-on-1. Knochenmus sold Bruggeman on a cross-ice pad and then blasted a rising shot into the upper register of the Austin net to extend it to a 3-0 Bobcat lead with 1:06 left in the second.
"Talk about coming through in a big spot," beamed Bobcats head coach and general manager Layne Sedevie, whose club sits one win away from a Robertson Cup Tournament appearance in Frisco, Tex., "that line was on the tail-end of a two-minute shift and Adam still had the presence of mind to make a smart play and put a great shot on."
The Bobcats got a big scare with four seconds left in the second stanza as Bruins forward Nolan Kirley hammered Buster Hebda from behind into the glass, earning a game ejection while Hebda stayed down on the ice for over two minutes.
Hebda returned in the third period after eventually skating to the bench under his own power.
On the ensuing power play, Moore appeared to score again with one second left in the period, but had the goal waved off on a kicked puck.
Austin battled back into the game late in the third when Chris Fischer spoiled Nelson's shutout at the 9:05 mark, taking the puck from an AJ Reid centering attempt, wiggling through the Bobcat defense and roofing a shot over Nelson's glove to cut the lead to 3-1.
Reid put the Cats on red alert with 1:29 left in the game, redirecting a point shot from Trevor Waldoch through Nelson's legs to whittle the lead to one at 3-2.
The Bruins created more pressure on Nelson in the final minute, and the former Century High standout saved his best save for last, denying a goal-line redirect from Charlie Adams with a glove stop before Filip Starzynski managed one final clear to spill the final five seconds off the clock and preserve the 3-2 win for the Cats.
"It's nice to finally take a breath now that we're done with that one," joked Sedevie. "Aaron came up with some huge saves early and late and kept us in a spot to win a big one on the road."
Nelson made 23 saves to improve to 4-1 in the 2012 Robertson Cup Playoffs; Bruggeman stopped 19 Bobcat attempts but slipped to 4-3 in the postseason.
The Bobcats will have a chance to close out the Bruins Saturday in Game Four, scheduled for a 7:05 PM puck drop at Riverside Arena.
Should a decisive Game Five be necessary, it is scheduled for 7:15 PM back in Bismarck at the VFW Sports Center.
Every Bobcat playoff game will be broadcast locally on the radio home of Bobcat Hockey, Super Talk 1270, KLXX-AM, and worldwide on the official internet television partner of the NAHL, FASTHockey, at http://nahl.fasthockey.com. Pregame coverage gets under way at 6:35 Saturday. Fans can watch Friday's game-and all away contests-live at Reza's Pitch at Third and Front in Bismarck, the official away game home of Bobcat Hockey.