The Kenai River Brown Bears used strong goaltending and special teams to defeat the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild 3-1 on Wednesday in North American Hockey League action at the Soldotna Sports Center.
The win, coming in front of 410 fans, keeps the Bears in the mix for securing home ice for the first round of the playoffs.
In order to secure home ice, the Brown Bears would have to finish second. Kenai River (26-21-6) is now just three points behind Wenatchee (29-20-3) and the Alaska Avalanche of Palmer (29-21-3) in the standings. The Wild and Avs are in a tie for second.
The Brown Bears have five games remaining, playing at West Division champion Fairbanks on March 18 and 19 before closing with three games against Dawson Creek (British Columbia) at the sports center from March 24 to 26.
The Avalanche get the Fresno (Calif.) Monsters for two games before closing with three games at Fairbanks. Wenatchee plays two at Fairbanks, two at New Mexico and two against Fresno. Both Fresno and New Mexico are in last place in their divisions.
"We'll see how it plays out," Brown Bears coach Oliver David said. "We just have to keep winning."
Goalie Mathias Dahlstrom was the player of the game for the Bears on Wednesday, recording 40 saves.
Dahlstrom was at his best in the second period, when the Bears took four penalties and Dahlstrom was credited with 25 saves on 25 shots to help Kenai River hold a 2-1 lead.
"He warded off an entire second-period attack and gave us a chance to win," David said. "That's what you need from a goalie at the elite level. A goalie needs to give you a chance to win. He gave us that chance."
David also said the penalty kill was exceptional, blocking 15 shots in the second period. The 25-2 Wenatchee advantage on shots in the second led to a 41-22 advantage for the game.
"We were on the penalty kill for the entire second period, including five-on-three for almost two minutes at one stretch," David said.
The Bears penalty kill held Wenatchee scoreless in 11 power plays in the two-game series, which also included an overtime loss for the Brown Bears on Tuesday. Kenai River was 2-for-7 on the power play in the series, including 1-for-1 on Wednesday.
"We got three points for the series because our special teams converted," David said.
The Brown Bears finish 5-3-1 against the Wild, including 3-0-1 at the sports center.
Matt Thompson, on assists from Dahlstrom and Sean Muller, started the scoring for Kenai River in the first period before Ben Carey answered for Wenatchee. Brad Duwe, on assists from Brett Lubanski and Doug Beck, closed the first with a power-play goal.
After the Dahlstrom show in the second period, Kyle Keenan, on assists from Dominic Granato and Jesse Ramsey, closed the scoring in the third.
David said the fourth line of Granato, Joe Blake and Zack Capozza played excellent.
"All three probably played their best games in a long time," David said.
Brown Bears 3, Wild 1
Wenatchee 1 0 0 --1
Kenai River 2 0 1 --1
First period -- 1. Kenai River, Thompson (Dahlstrom, Muller), 4:31; 2. Wenatchee, Carey (Hope, von Rueden), 10:20; 3. Kenai River, Duwe (Lubanski, Beck), pp, 14:41. Penalties -- Wenatchee 1 for 2:00.
Second period -- none. Penalties -- Kenai River 4 for 8:00.
Third period -- 4. Kenai River, Keenan (Granato, Ramsey), 13:40. Penalties -- Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal -- Wenatchee 7-25-9--41; Kenai River 12-2-8--22.
Goalies -- Wenatchee, Lewis (22 shots, 19 saves); Kenai River, Dahlstrom (41 shots, 40 saves).
Power plays -- Wenatchee 0 for 5; Kenai River 1 for 1.
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