After losing to last-place Dawson Creek (British Columbia) Rage 4-3 on Friday, the visiting Kenai River Brown Bears knew they needed two points Saturday to stay afloat in the playoff race.
The Bears got those two points in dramatic fashion, scoring twice in the final 30 seconds to tie the game at 3, then winning in a shootout in front of 1,037 fans in North American Hockey League action.
“Our theme during the second intermission going into the third period was that it doesn’t matter how we get two points, we have to get two points to stay in the playoff race,” Kenai River Brown Bears coach Oliver David said. “We have to get two points from the last place team in the division because we know what is ahead of us.”
Kenai River improves to 22-17-2 with the victory, moving within just one point of fourth-place Fresno (Calif.) in the West Division. The Rage fall to 9-29-3.
Down 3-1, the Bears had a faceoff in the offensive zone with under a minute to play when goalie Austin Severson was pulled. With 30 seconds left, Ryan Walker got the Bears within one on assists from Zac Lazzaro and Alex Frere.
Kenai River won the faceoff after the goal at center ice and got right back to work.
“We won the faceoff and we were able to get the puck deep,” David said. “That was a big detail, because if we don’t get that puck deep, we don’t get the sixth man on the ice.”
As it was, Sean Muller raced on the ice to serve as the extra attacker and tied the game with seven seconds left. Assists went to Frere and Matt Thompson.
“That was a pretty magicial few moments there,” David said.
The Bears appeared to have won the game in overtime, but the referees ruled the player had kicked the puck in using his skate.
The game went to a shootout, where Austin Severson completed an odd night. With 5:39 left in the second, Severson was whistled for roughing.
He was so irate that he rushed to center ice to encounter the refereee.
“He was red,” David said of his goalie. “He was on fire.”
Gabe Grunwald went into goal for 16 seconds, long enough for Severson to cool down. He came back to shut out the Rage during regulation, overtime and during the shootout.
Brett Lubanski, the Bears’ fourth shooter, was the only Bears player to score in the shootout.
“That’s the sign of our team this year,” David said. “We have lost only one game in a shootout, and one in overtime.
“Yeah, there’s bounces and luck involved, but this is a team that doesn’t like to lose.”
The Bears dropped a 4-3 decision Friday in front of 762.
The Brown Bears could not recover from four unanswered goals.
Marek Hemsky gave Kenai River a 1-0 lead in the first period with his first career goal for the Bears. Lubanski and Blessing had assists.
Then the Rage began taking it to the Bears and Grunwald, who was making his second start for Kenai River.
Ryan Matthews, who would notch a hat trick, tied the game with 1:50 left in the second period.
By the 5:06 mark of the second period, the Rage had a 4-1 edge as Matthews scored two more goals and Jade McMullen added another.
“We had our new backup goalie in net and he was a little shaky,” David said. “He had some issues in there.
“In his defense, our team didn’t really play that sound in front of him. He faced several point-blank shots.”
Grunwald was pulled in favor of Severson after the Rage took the 4-1 lead.
“The game really changed when Severson got in goal,” David said. “It was the exact opposite. The guys really got on their horse and took it to them.”
Bobby Murphy scored with 3:29 left to play in the second on an assist by Vincent Stefan.
The Brown Bears outshot the Rage 12-6 in the final period en route to a 41-32 advantage for the game. The team only solved Rage goalie Edward Dyson once in the third period, though.
With 4:10 left, Lazzaro scored a power-play goal on assists from Chris Nuth and Frere. The goal continued two positive trends for the Bears — the Lazzaro-Nuth-Frere line stayed hot and Kenai River scored for the second straight night on the power play.
Severson was called upon to make just eight saves in his time in net.
The Bears finish a seven-game road trip with a 4-2-1 record. Kenai River hosts Wenatchee (Wash.) on Friday and Saturday at the Soldotna Sports Center. Both games are at 7:30 p.m.
Rage 4, Brown Bears 3
First period — 1. Kenai River, Hemsky (Lubanski, Blessing), 7:44; 2. Dawson Creek, Matthews (Petrick, McCallum), 18:10. Penalties — none.
Second period — 3. Dawson Creek, McMullen (Mueller), 7:34; 4. Dawson Creek, Matthews (Turnbull), 13:17; 5. Dawson Creek, Matthews (Fellnermayr, Ripley), pp, 14:54; 6. Kenai River, Murphy (Stefan), 16:31. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Dawson Creek 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 7. Kenai River, Lazzaro (Nuth, Frere), pp, 15:50. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Dawson Creek 3 for 6:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 11-18-12—41; Dawson Creek 8-18-6—32.
Goalies — Kenai River, Grunwald (24 shots, 20 saves), Severson (8 shots, 8 saves); Dawson Creek, Dyson (41 shots, 38 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 2; Dawson Creek 1 for 2.
Brown Bears 4, Rage 3, SO
First period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 4 for 8:00; Dawson Creek 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 1. Dawson Creek, McCallum (Matthews), 2:44; 2. Kenai River, Walker (Lazzaro, Frere), 9:17; 3. Dawson Creek, E. Ripley (L. Ripley, Wark), 9:52; 4. Dawson Creek, Opel (un.), 12:42. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Dawson Creek 4 for 8:00.
Third period — 5. Kenai River, Walker (Stefan, Blessing), ea, 19:30; 6. Kenai River, Muller (Frere, Thompson), ea, 19:53. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Dawson Creek 2 for 4:00.
Overtime — none. Penalties — none.
Shootout — Kenai River 1 (Hemsky NG, Muller NG, Blessing NG, Lubanski G); Dawson Creek (Adduono NG, Turnbull NG, Fellnermayr NG, Mueller NG, Petrick NG).
Shots on goal — Kenai River 4-17-15-2—38; Dawson Creek 18-11-8-2—39.
Goalies — Kenai River, Severson (39 shots, 36 saves), Grunwald (0 shots, 0 saves); Dawson Creek, Dyson (38 shots, 35 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 4; Dawson Creek 0 for 5.