PALMER — With his team locked in a battle with the Fresno (Calif.) Monsters in a race for the fourth and final postseason berth from the North American Hockey League West Division, Kenai River head coach Oliver David will take any point he can get.
And David is certainly loving taking three key points back to the Kenai Peninsula. Kenai River moved into a fourth-place tie with Fresno after a 5-2 win over the Alaska Avalanche at the MTA Events Center in Palmer.
That win combined with Friday’s overtime loss give the Bears three points for the weekend and a jump in the standings.
“The bottom line for us, we’re in a race against Fresno. We’re not in direct competition with the Avs. They have some good separation from us,” David said. “To be honest with you, I’d be happy with one point this weekend. I know that sounds pretty weird, but any point we can get is crucial in this race.”
Kenai River scored twice in the first and three times in the third en route to the win, which lifted Kenai to 24-20-3 overall and in the tie with Frenso with 51 points in the standings.
“We won the first and we won the third,” David said.
That was big for the Bears, who rallied to tie the score on Friday but watched Alaska score the game-winning goal seconds into overtime.
Marek Hemsky scored twice in the third period and Matt Thompson grabbed a pair of goals in the game for Kenai River. Jesse Ramsey bagged a goal and an assist. Both of Ramsey’s points came during the key first period.
“The start of the game is pretty crucial, especially losing in overtime last night after coming back in the third,” David said. “We had a very good start. I felt there was not very much pressure against.”
Kenai River took the lead with the pair of first-period goals. Alaska was able to cut the lead in half during the second. Tanner Fahlstedt led a 2-on-1 and fed Evan Hesse with a pass across the zone. Hesse took the pass on the left wing and tucked it inside the far post.
But in the third, Kenai River was able to push its advantage.
Brett Lubanski pulled a puck from the corner, and fed a centering pass to Thompson, who scored. That made it 3-1.
Less than five minutes later, Frere flipped in a shot from the point, which was redirected into the net by Hemsky.
The points come on the heels of suffering a pair of losses to Wenatchee last weekend. This weekend Frenso suffered a pair of losses to Fairbanks, and didn’t earn any points in the standings.
“We end up in a playoff hockey spot in 24 hours of hockey, but just as quickly it can go away,” David said.
Kenai River hosts Alaska for a pair of games next weekend.
“Unfortunately for us, we have the Avs and Fairbanks for eight of the next 10 games while we try to make up points on Fresno,” David said. “Our road is arguably the toughest from here on out.”
Avalanche 4, Brown Bears 3, OT
First period — 1. Alaska, Darge (Hansen), 0:23; 2. Kenai River, Lubanski (Stefan), 6:25. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Alaska 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 3. Alaska, Nelson (un), 0:49; 4. Alaska, Schmitz (Kontny), 11:59. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Alaska 3 for 6:00.
Third period — 5. Kenai River, Arkimo (Wasell, Walker), 16:10; 6. Kenai River, Hemsky (Stenehjem, Lubanski), 16:36. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Alaska 1 for 2:00.
Overtime — 7. Alaska, Fahlstedt (Schmitz), 0:29. Penalties — none.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 8-7-6-0—21; Alaska 7-10-9-1—27.
Goalies — Kenai River, Grunwald (17 shots, 14 saves); Severson (10 shots, 9 saves); Alaska, Kulmanovsky (21 shots, 18 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 5; Alaska 0 for 7.
Brown Bears 5, Avalanche 2
First period — 1. Kenai River, Ramsey (Thompson, Muller), 12:42; 2. Kenai River, Thompson (Ramsey, Lubanski), pp, 19:06. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Alaska 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 3. Alaska, Hesse (Fahlstedt), pp, 15:45. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Alaska 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 4. Kenai River, Thompson (Lubanski), 2:41; 5. Kenai River, Hemsky (Frere, Muller), pp, 8:22; 6. Alaska, Kinkopf (Hesse, Wright), pp, 11:47; 7. Kenai River, Hemsky (Blessing, Lubanski), 15:03.
Penalties — Kenai River 5 for 10:00; Alaska 6 for 20:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 13-3-5—21; Alaska 8-11-13—32.
Goalies — Kenai River, Severson (32 shots, 30 saves); Alaska, Kulmanovsky (21 shots, 16 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 2 for 9; Alaska 2 for 8.