The Fresno (Calif.) Monsters took the lead in the playoff race with the Kenai River Brown Bears with a 6-2 blowout Tuesday at the Soldotna Sports Center.
The two squads entered the game tied for the final playoff spot in the North American Hockey League West Division.
The Monsters took a two-point lead on the Brown Bears by storming to a 6-0 lead after two periods. Fresno is now 24-20-9, while the Bears are 26-23-3.
The same two teams play at 7:05 p.m. tonight.
“We were pretty lazy,” Brown Bears coach Oliver David said. “We didn’t have a jump in our step at all.
“They capitalized on their chances.”
The Monsters scored four goals on 18 shots against Kenai River goalie Austin Severson before Severson was pulled. Fresno then scored two goals on four shots against backup Gabe Grunwald before Grunwald settled in during the final period.
“He had some pretty aggressive situations in front of him that shouldn’t have gotten in front of him,” David said of Severson. “Nevertheless, four goals on 18 shots and your night’s probably done.”
Luke Sandler scored on the power play to give the Monsters a 1-0 lead after the first period. Then in the second period, Sandler, Ryan Doner, Mikhail Bushinski, Kyle Buffardi and Filip Winkler poured goals on the Bears.
The Bears are battling injuries and sickness, plus they just played in Fairbanks on Friday and Saturday. But considering Fresno is on an Alaska swing in which they played in Palmer on Friday and Saturday, play in Kenai on Tuesday and today, then travel to Fairbanks for Friday and Saturday games, David said there are no excuses.
“They know what’s at stake,” David said. “For reasons I may never know, they did not have a jump in their step.”
David said it was Kenai River’s worst game this year, and the Brown Bears’ worst game at home in two years.
The coach said the only positive thing to come out of the loss is that a one-goal loss or a four-goal loss counts the same in the standings.
“Obviously, we need to get a split here,” David said. “As bad as tonight feels, a split would get us right back in the same spot.”
Chris Blessing and Kellen Wasell had late goals for the Bears, but David said the tallies were meaningless.
They did keep Fresno goalie Tomas Sholl from recording a shutout. Sholl made 36 saves.
David said Sholl saved a penalty shot when the Monsters were up 2-0, then saved a breakaway minutes later.
The Bears were able to draw 867 fans on a weeknight, double the number that would normally show up on a Tuesday.
“There were a lot of new faces in the building,” David said. “I hope they give us another shot.”
Monsters 6, Brown Bears 2
First period — 1. Fresno, Sandler (Wallace, Pauluk), pp, 6:44. Penalties — Fresno 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 2. Fresno, Sandler (Doner, Wallace), 5:24; 3. Fresno, Doner (Sandler, Buffardi), 11:33; 4. Fresno, Bushinski (Winkler, Bradley), 13:36; 5. Fresno, Buffardi (Valencia, Sisk), 16:17; 6. Fresno, Winkler (Pauluk, Doner), 19:59. Penalties — Fresno 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 7. Kenai River, Blessing (Stenehjem, Thompson), pp, ea, 18:55; 8. Kenai River, Wasell (Stefan, Lazzaro), pp, ea, 19:06.
Shots on goal — Fresno 9-13-10—32; Kenai River 11-12-15—38.
Goalies — Fresno, Sholl (38 shots, 36 saves); Kenai River, Severson (18 shots, 14 saves), Grunwald (14 shots, 12 saves).
Power plays — Fresno 1 for 3; Kenai River 2 for 3.