by John Peterson
For the second game in a row, the #1 Austin Bruins (44-20-1) needed overtime heroics to complete a comeback from an early deficit to earn a big playoff win. Friday in Game 1 of the Central Division finals, the Bruins crawled back from an 0-3 deficit in the opening minutes to defeat the #3 Bismarck Bobcats (34-25-5) 5-4 in overtime at Riverside Arena in Austin.
Bismarck jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead in the first 5:50 of the first period, forcing the Bruins to call their timeout early in the game. The Bobcats notched the first goal at 1:11 of the game on a shot from the point from Tanner Salsberry (Plainfield, IL) that snuck through traffic and past Bruins goalie Nick Lehr (Roseville, MN). Evan Giesler (Naperville, IL) sprinted between the two Bruins defenders and beat Lehr on a breakaway to make it 2-0, and Tyler Dunagan (Maple Grove, MN) cleaned up a rebound from a Stanislov Dzakhov (Moscow, Russia) wraparound for the third Bobcats goal.
58 seconds after the Bruins timeout, Scott Nelson (Apple Valley, MN) deflected a Josh Bretner (N. Potomac, MD) shot past Bismarck goalie Aaron Nelson (Bismarck, ND) to get Austin on the board. Two minutes later, Trey Dodd (St. Louis, MO) capitalized on a big rebound from an Easton Viitala (Marquette, MI) shot to make it 3-2. Ryan Callahan (Grafton, ND) snuck behind the Bruins defense and beat Lehr on the forehand to give Bismarck the two-goal lead again, but Casey Jerry (Hudson, WI) whipped a wrist shot by Nelson to cut the lead to one before the end of a wild first period.
After a scoreless second period in which both teams failed on a single power-play, Niko Hildenbrand (Vacaville, CA) tied the game 39 seconds into the third. On the play, Drew Anderson (Rochester, MN) skipped a pass behind the Bobcats defense to a streaking Hildenbrand, who barely snuck a backhander under the right pad of Nelson. Neither team could pocket the game-winner in the final 19:21 of the period, forcing overtime.
Just over five minutes into the first overtime, Bruins rookie Sam Kauppila (Gurnee, IL) feathered a backhander from the slot pas a sliding Nelson to provide the heroics, giving Austin the 5-4 win and 1-0 series lead.
Game 2 of the Central Division Finals is Saturday night at 7:05pm at Riverside Arena in Austin. Then the series shifts to Bismarck for Game 3 next Friday night at 8pm. Game 2 tickets are available at HyVee, Games People Play and Walgreens in Austin, as well as the Bruins ticket office. The broadcast will be shown on fasthockey.com and aired on the radio in Austin on 1480AM KAUS.