Not even an overtime loss could dampen the mood Tuesday in the Kenai River Brown Bears' locker room.
The Bears fell to the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild 3-2 in extra time before 376 fans at the Soldotna Sports Center, but clinched a berth to the North American Hockey League playoffs for the third straight year.
The Bears (25-21-6, 56 points) secured no worse than fourth place in the NAHL West Division thanks to the point they earn from the OT loss. The Fresno (Calif.) Monsters, chasing the Bears for fourth, were eliminated from playoff contention in a 4-1 loss Tuesday to the first-place Fairbanks Ice Dogs (36-12-2, 74 points).
Kenai River and Wenatchee square off again at 7:05 p.m. today at the sports center.
"There are a ton of positives that come out of tonight," Kenai River coach Oliver David said, pointing to the fact the Bears killed six power plays in as many tries, created a number of scoring chances and qualified for the playoffs. "There's not really a downside. It's a good night."
Michael Di Puma tallied the game-winner for the Wild about a minute into overtime when Kenai River defenseman Chris Rial lost his footing in front of the goal. Di Puma had an open shot and beat goaltender Mathias Dahlstrom. Jacob Barber earned the assist.
The goal completed a comeback for the Wild, which trailed 2-1 entering the final period.
A win would have pulled Kenai River within two points of the Wild (29-19-3, 61 points), but the focus in the locker room after the game was on clinching a playoff spot.
"Knowing that we are in, we can just focus on our game now," forward Brad Duwe said. "We can focus on the little things."
And although the Bears have been to the playoffs in three of the four years of their existence, this postseason berth is different.
Kenai River has never finished above .500 and is poised to change that with six games remaining. In the past, the club has qualified for the playoffs by default because there were four teams in the division and all four made the postseason.
This year, however, with six teams in the West, two won't qualify. The Bears earned the right to extend their season at least one more week.
"We've been preparing for this for a while now," David said. "It was just a matter of time before it played out, and we've done what we needed to do to allow that to happen."
Now the Bears turn their focus to playoff positioning. They are five points behind the Wild as well as the Alaska Avalanche of Palmer -- both teams have 61 points -- and could climb to as high as second.
The No. 4 team plays the No. 1 team, while the second and third seeds square off.
Alaska finishes the season against the Ice Dogs, while the Bears conclude at home against the Dawson Creek (British Columbia) Rage.
"In terms of the way it shakes out, that's a great opponent for us to end with and maybe pick up some points and change our playoff seeding," David said.
On Tuesday, Doug Beck scored his 27th goal of the season with 13:40 to play in the second, putting the Bears up 1-0 after a scoreless first. Beck poked the puck past Wild goalie Brandon Jaeger on a left-to-right-cross from Brett Lubanski, who finished with two assists and now has a team-high 44. Erick Ware also was credited with the assist.
Kenai River then survived a 40-second stretch in which it played down two men midway through the second when Chris Rial and Matt Thompson were called for infractions within a span of 30 seconds, giving the Wild a 5-on-3 advantage.
It was one of six penalty kills for the Bears.
"I thought we played exceptionally well," David said. "We created chances, we scored on the power play and we killed their power plays."
Wenatchee evened the score at the 5:48 mark of the second when Brennen Parker took the puck on the left wing and blasted a shot past Dahlstrom. Blake Saylor and Matt Cope earned assists.
Ryan Walker put the Bears up 2-1 with a power-play goal at the 2:30 mark of the second, sending a line drive past Jaeger to finish the second assist of the game for Lubanski. Kenai River went on the one-man advantage after Kyle Huson was sent to the box for two minutes for holding.
Wenatchee tied the game at 2 at even strength with 17:05 remaining as Barber skated into open space and beat Dahlstrom to the goaltender's right shoulder. Di Puma and Huson were credited with assists.
The Bears have six games until the playoffs and hope to climb in the standings.
Duwe, a Soldotna product, has been on the squad for two seasons and believes the 2010-11 Bears have what it takes to succeed in the playoffs.
"We have heart," he said. "We want it. We don't play to the scoreboard. We play to get better."
Wild 3, Brown Bears 2 OT
Wenatchee 0 1 1 1 -3
Kenai River 0 2 0 0 --2
First period - No scoring. Penalties - Wenatchee 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Second period - 1. Kenai River, Beck (Lubanski, Ware), 6:20; 2. Wenatchee, Parker (Saylor, Cope), 14:12; 3. Kenai River, Walker (Lubanski), pp, 17:30. Penalties - Wenatchee 4 for 8:00; Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Third period - 4. Wenatchee, Barber (Di Pumas, Huson), 2:55. Penalties - Wenatchee none. Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Overtime - 5. Wenatchee, Di Puma (Barber), 1:18. Penalties - none.
Shots on goal - Wenatchee 9-10-14-1--34; Kenai River 6-12-5-0--23.
Goalies - Wenatchee, Jaeger (23 shots, 21 saves); Kenai River, Dahlstrom (34 shots, 31 saves).
Power plays - Wenatchee 0 for 6; Kenai River 1 for 6.
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