Just as Kenai River and Texas appeared destined to be heading for a shootout, Tornado forward Sergei Korostin decided to start the party a little early.
After knotting the game early in the third period and surviving countless scoring opportunities by the Brown Bears, Korostin corralled a loose puck at the blue line and beat Kenai River goaltender Steven Madej on a breakaway with only 34 seconds remaining in overtime, quelling the Tornado's six-game losing streak with a 3-2 victory at the Soldotna Sports Center on Tuesday night.
The Brown Bears 13th one-goal setback of the season was also their eighth overtime loss, tying them for second in the league in that category with Southern Minnesota.
"Another overtime one-point instead of two," a dejected Kenai River coach Mike Flanagan said. "We've just got to find a way to keep going and get a win instead of a point and a point and a point. It's nice to get two wins like we did a couple weeks ago (against Topeka).
"But we did earn a point," he added. "It's disappointing that we didn't get two."
They certainly had ample chances to come away with both points.
With the game tied at two at the 9:30 mark of the third, Adam Krefski deked a Texas defender to the inside before feeding a wide-open Brett Englebright, who appeared to slip the puck past Tornado goalie Thomas Callaghan and into the far corner of the net. But as fans rose to their feet and players slowed to a halt, the light never lit and play continued.
"It looked from my angle that it was in but the light didn't go on. We asked the officials," Flanagan said. "It looked like it was in, but I was farthest away from it. You've got to put faith in their judgment, the officials. They've been pretty consistent. They do a good job."
Just under two minutes later, former Kenai Central standout Jed McGlasson emerged from the penalty box precisely in time to receive a pass at the blue line and skate in unabated on Callaghan (36 saves, 38 shots). But McGlasson tried to shift to his left too late and Callaghan was there to deny one of the Brown Bears' best opportunities. Callaghan stoned all 18 of Kenai River's shots in the third.
Kenai River (10-31-8) then owned the first four minutes of the extra session, outshooting the Tornado 3-1 before a shot by a Brown Bears defenseman hit a Texas forward's shin pad, resulting in the free break for Korostin, who made it count.
"That was one of our better overtime periods as far as maybe having the better of the play. Sometimes when we've been in overtime we've been dominated," Flanagan said. "But sometimes that's the way it works and you sort of have the best of an overtime and it just comes down to a break like that. That's the way it goes."
Scott Deur and Kristian Leach jump-started the Brown Bears offense by twice connecting for pretty goals in the opening two periods.
With 9:28 remaining in the first frame, Deur won the puck along the left boards and slipped a perfect pass between two defenders to a streaking Leach, who lifted it directly over Callaghan's upper body for a 1-0 lead.
The duo then extended the cushion to two only 2:20 into the second when Deur found Leach darting behind Texas defenders and slid the puck through a vacancy in the neutral zone. Leach easily cradled the pass in the Tornado end, deked Callaghan to his left and backhanded the rubber into the net.
"That line played well. Deur, doing his little part out there," Flanagan said. "It's good to see those guys make plays like that. They're playing with confidence and that's a good thing for them."
Texas (18-30-4) sliced the deficit in half midway through the second when Tyler Bowman lit the lamp just seven seconds after the Brown Bears killed off a Texas power play.
"They have a good power play," Flanagan said. "We killed it off but they scored right at the expiration of that penalty."
The Tornado then tied the game on a power play just 1:51 into the third when Sam Goodwin deflected a shot past Madej, who turned away 38-of-41 shots.
"I think we could have probably won a 2-1 game (Tuesday), but instead we have to force for an overtime and end up getting one point instead of probably two," Flanagan said.
The loss narrows the Brown Bears already slim playoff hopes.
With only one berth still available in the South Division and that berth currently in possession of fourth-place Texas, Kenai River now sits six games out with nine to play, including Friday night's 7 p.m. tilt against the Tornado.
The Brown Bears' bleak outlook could have different, though, had they maintained their two-goal lead in the pivotal second period, during which they were outplayed and outshot, 20-8, in falling to 1-6 vs. the Tornado this season.
"Definitely a little flat in the second period," Flanagan said. "It's tough to lose games like that."
Matthew Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TORNADO 3, BROWN BEARS 2, OT
Texas 0 1 1 1 3
Kenai River 1 1 0 0 2
First period 1. Kenai River, Leach (Deur, Wentland), 10:32. Penalties Texas 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period 2. Kenai River, Leach (Deur), 2:20; 3. Texas, Bowman (Bengtson, Tennyson), 9:31. Penalties Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period 4. Texas, Goodwin (Puente, Korostin), 1:51 (pp). Penalties Texas 1 for 2:00, Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal Texas 7-20-12-2 41; Kenai River 9-8-18-3 38.
Goalies Texas, Callaghan (38 shots-36 saves); Kenai River, Madej (41 shots-38 saves).
Power Plays Texas 1 for 4; Kenai River 0 for 2.
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