by John Peterson
The third time was the charm. After two straight years of playoff exits at the hands of the Bismarck Bobcats, the #1 Austin Bruins (46-21-2) got over the hump. The Bruins edged the #3 Bobcats (36-26-6) 2-1 in the fifth and deciding game of the Central Division Finals to claim the organization’s first Central Cup, sending Austin through to the national semifinals.
Early in the first period, it appeared as if Bismarck had taken an early lead on a center ice shot that fooled Bruins goaltender Nick Lehr (Roseville, MN), but the goal was waved off because the Bobcats were offside. With a strong shift after the no-goal, the Bruins answered with a goal that did count. Eli May (Eagan, MN) centered a pass to Brian Bachnak (Riverview, MI) who ripped a one-timer through the five-hole of Bismarck goalie Aaron Nelson (Bismarck, ND) from low in the left circle to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead after one.
After outshooting Bismarck 12-3 in the first period, the Bruins again dominated the second period. Austin outshot the Bobcats 21-10 in the middle frame, but gave up a goal in the final minute. Bismarck rookie Zach Yon (Roseau, MN) had his first shot blocked by the only Bruins defenseman back, but capitalized with a backhand on the rebound that snuck past a sliding Lehr to tie the game 1-1 with 14.8 seconds left.
The third period was mostly even the first 14 minutes of play, but the Bruins strung together two or three strong shifts in a row that eventually led to the game winning goal. After the Bobcats failed on a clearing attempt, the puck bounced onto the stick of Austin Nelson (Hastings, MN) who was positioned in the high slot. Nelson fired a shot that deflected off of a screening Jay Dickman (Shoreview, MN) to give the Bruins the lead for good at 15:04 of the third. Lehr stopped 21 shots, including nine in the final stanza for his sixth win of the playoffs and 45th overall this season. Nelson was terrific in net for Bismarck in the loss, stopping 43 Bruins attempts.
Austin will travel to Topeka this weekend for the Robertson Cup Semifinals, with the game schedule not yet released at the end of Monday. The RoadRunners won the South Division in five games over the defending national champion Amarillo Bulls in five games. Topeka took all three games in Amarillo, including Game 5 to advance. It will be a best-of-three series, and the winner will advance to the National Championship the following weekend. Catch all of the Bruins games in Topeka on fasthockey.com and 1480AM KAUS.