The Kenai River Brown Bears completed a two-game sweep of the Fairbanks Ice Dogs with a 5-2 victory Saturday at the Soldotna Sports Center in North American Hockey League action in front of 1,114 fans.
Captain Zac Lazzaro had two goals and an assist as the Brown Bears (28-24-6) won their fifth straight game and seventh in eight tries. The Bears wrapped up regular-season play at the sports center with a 17-12-1 record.
The Bears also were able to tie up the Era Alaska Cup at 7-7. The cup is awarded to the winner of the season-long battle between the two teams.
The fate of the cup will now come down to the last two games of the season, as Kenai River travels to Fairbanks for games Friday and Saturday.
The Bears dealt a serious blow to Fairbanks’ quest to earn first place in the West Division and home-ice advantage in the Robertson Cup playoffs.
The Ice Dogs (38-16-4) came into the series with a one-point edge on the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild, largely due to the Bears’ three-game sweep of the Wild last weekend.
But the Wild beat the Fresno (Calif.) Monsters Friday and Saturday, so Wenatchee now has 82 points to the 80 of Fairbanks. Wenatchee has two games left against Fresno.
The Bears get the second-place team from the West Division in the first round of the playoffs.
Soldotna product Brad Duwe got the Bears on the board just 39 seconds into the game when he scored on an assist from Mikhail Bushinski.
After Jayson Angus equalized for the Dogs, Lazzaro notched his first goal of the game with 1:38 left in the period. Vincent Stefan and Jacob Davidson assisted on the power-play tally.
Special teams was important on the night, because the Bears and Dogs didn’t produce their normal paucity of penalty minutes. Fairbanks had 49 minutes on 11 infractions, while Kenai River had 53 on nine.
The Bears were 2-for-7 on the power play, while the Dogs were 0-for-4.
Kenai Central product Zack Zulkanycz gave the Bears a 3-1 lead with the lone goal of the second period. He was assisted by Brad LeLievre and Conor Deal.
Just 4:02 into the third, Lazzaro staked the Bears to a 4-1 lead on an assist from Duwe.
After Garret Clemment cut the lead to 4-2 a minute and a half later, Davidson scored a power-play goal with 13:03 to play for some breathing room. Lazzaro and Stefan assisted.
The Bears showed depth in the game, outshooting the Dogs 38-20 and scoring five goals in the game despite not getting a point from leading goal scorers Matt Seidel and Alex Jackstadt. Seidel had keyed Friday’s win with four goals.
Evan McCarthy made 18 saves for the win, while Steve Perry had 33 saves for Fairbanks.
Brown Bears 5, Ice Dogs 2
Fairbanks 1 0 1 —2
Kenai River 2 1 2 —5
First period — 1. Kenai River, Duwe (Bushinski), 0:39; 2. Fairbanks, Angus (Wolter, Loe), 11:48; 3. Kenai River, Lazzaro (Stefan, Davidson), pp, 18:42. Penalties — Fairbanks 5 for 29:00; Kenai River 7 for 49:00.
Second period — 4. Kenai River, Zulkanycz (LeLievre, Deal), 11:53. Penalties — Fairbanks 4 for 16:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 5. Kenai River, Lazzaro (Duwe), 4:02; 6. Fairbanks, Clemment (Rose, Angus), 5:31; 7. Kenai River, Davidson (Lazzaro, Stefan), pp, 6:57. Penalties — Fairbnks 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Fairbanks 6-7-7—20; Kenai River 12-15-11—38.
Goalies — Fairbanks, Perry (38 shots, 33 saves); Kenai River, McCarthy (20 shots, 18 saves).
Power plays — Fairbanks 0 for 4; Kenai River 2 for 7.