by John Peteson
The #1 Austin Bruins (45-21-2) weren’t ready to see their season end in the fourth game of the Central Division finals for the third year in a row. Trailing 3-2 at the outset of the third period, the Bruins scored twice in the final stanza to defeat the #3 Bismarck Bobcats (36-26-5) 4-3 Saturday night in Bismarck. The series is now tied 2-2, heading back to Austin for Game 5 Monday night.
Austin heavily outshot Bismarck in the first period (20-10), but could not find a way to beat Bobcats’ goaltender Aaron Nelson (Bismarck, ND). Much unlike Friday’s Game 3, the Bruins generated four or five quality scoring chances in the opening frame of game four. However, Bismarck tallied the only goal of the period on the power-play when Tanner Salsberry (Plainfield, IL) let go a wrist shot that snuck under the crossbar for Salsberry’s third goal of the series.
For the first time since early in Game 2 one week ago, the Bruins were able to score on Nelson. Drew Anderson (Rochester, MN) set up the goal with a drop-back pass to Sam Kauppila (Gurnee, IL), who ripped a wrist shot by Nelson to tie the game 1-1 at 12:35 of the second period. Lucas Kohls (Forest Lake, MN) then gave Austin its first lead on a backhander from the left circle on the power-play. 36 seconds after Kohls’ goal, Stanislav Dzakhov (Moscow, Russia) tied the game 2-2 on a shot through a screen. Bismarck took its second lead with 3:32 left in the period, when Ryan Callahan (Grafton, ND) deflected a centering pass by Bruins goalie Nick Lehr (Roseville, MN) on a two-on-one. The Bobcats led 3-2 at the second intermission, putting the Bruins in desparation mode on the brink of elimination.
The Central Division regular season champions were determined to keep their playoff run going, as the Bruins scored quickly in the third to even the score again. Luke Dietsch (St. Paul) threw a puck on goal from the corner that snuck past Nelson. Then Kauppila snapped in the eventual game-winner from the slot at 4:24 for his second of the game. Austin overcame adversity one final time in the last five minutes, when the Bruins lost Jake Arroyo (Bolingbrook, IL) and Jay Dickman (Shoreview, MN) to separate Game Ejection infractions, and Eli May (Eagan, MN) who was injured blocking a shot. Lehr made 34 saves in the win, while Nelson stopped 33 in the loss.
That sets up a fifth and final game to determine a division champion Monday night. Game 5 will be at Riverside arena at 7:05pm, with the winner advancing to the national semifinals next weekend. Tickets are available at HyVee, Games People Play and Walgreens in Austin, as well as the Bruins ticket office. The game can also be seen on fasthockey.com and heard on KAUS.