The Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild made it clear on Friday and Saturday that they have no intention of letting the Kenai River Brown Bears return to the Soldotna Sports Center this season.
The Wild (42-9-3) defeated the host Brown Bears (12-38-6) 5-3 on Friday and 6-1 on Saturday in North American Hockey League action.
The Wild, in first in the West Division, will host the Brown Bears, in last in the division, in a best-of-five series in Washington starting April 2, but all those playoff games will be in Washington. Unless the Brown Bears are able to take the series from the Wild, Kenai River played its last home game of the season on Saturday.
The Wild have beaten the Brown Bears in 11 of 12 contests this season. Dajon Mingo, who was traded from the Brown Bears to the Wild earlier in the season, said staying on top of the Brown Bears was important going into the playoffs.
"We were trying to think of this as a playoff game," Mingo said after Friday's game. "We like to think of every game as a playoff game."
On Saturday in front of 803 fans, Mingo had two goals and an assist to lead the Wild to victory.
Mingo started the scoring in the first period. Wenatchee's Duncan McKellar followed with an unassisted goal.
Johan Skinnars brought the Brown Bears within one goal when he notched his third goal of the weekend. Brad Duwe and Brett Lubanski assisted on Skinnars' power-play strike.
In the second period, Adam McKenzie and Jeff Jubinville had goals for the Wild. In the third period, Kyle Brodie and Mingo had tallies.
Mike Martin had 48 saves for the Brown Bears, while Brandon Jaeger made 29 saves for the Wild.
The Brown Bears pushed the Wild into the final minutes on Friday in front of 683 fans.
Kenai River fell behind 3-1 in the second period, but Skinnars brought the Brown Bears back with a pair of second-period goals.
Just 32 seconds after McKenzie had scored a power-play goal for the Wild, Skinnars got a breakaway on Wenatchee goalie Brendan Jensen and ripped a wrister off the pipe. The puck clinked off the metalwork, hit the back of Jensen's leg, and trickled into the net.
With 50 seconds left to play in the second, Duwe hit a wide-open Skinnars with a cross-ice pass and Skinnars again buried the power-play opportunity.
It was the 17th goal in 25 games with Kenai River for Skinnars. With two assists on Friday, Duwe now has 32 points in 44 games.
Wenatchee captain Brandon Burrell quickly snatched the momentum back from Kenai River 1:15 into the third period. With his teammates heading off the ice for a line change, the defenseman got the puck outside the blue line, waltzed past a few Kenai River defenders, and whistled a clean shot past Kenai River goalie Josh Benton.
"It was a good individual effort and a good shot," Wild coach Paul Baxter said.
Brown Bears coach Oliver David said the Wild are so good that any letdown can be crucial.
"I pulled the 'D' out and told them to be on the safe side when getting attacked," David said. "Obviously, that did not happen on that goal."
The Brown Bears were able to stay with the Wild in a quick and clean third period. Kenai River earned a power play with 2:42 to play.
Wenatchee kept the Brown Bears from a solid scoring chance, with McKenzie sacrificing his body to stop a Skinnars blast from the point early in the man advantage.
Kenai River finished 1-for-5 on the power play after going 3-of-6 in its last game against the Wild.
"Last time they were getting shots off from the point," Mingo said. "This time we were getting in their shooting lanes."
With 1:02 left, Kenai River's Kegan Kiel was whistled for high-sticking.
"I also talked about specifically refraining from taking stick penalties," David said. "Earlier, a stick penalty cost us a goal.
"Then at the end of the game, to end a power play by taking a stick penalty is absurd."
After 20 seconds of 4-on-4, the Wild finished a 3-for-4 evening on the power play when Shawn Pauly scored with 29 seconds left to clinch the victory.
The Wild, who outshot Kenai River 40-27, had taken a 2-1 lead after one period as Mingo assisted on a goal by Jubinville, and Mingo and Jubinville assisted on a goal by Alex McLean.
Mingo said he was fired up to play in front of fans that used to cheer him on.
"Our line was out there 100 percent," he said. "They didn't back down at all. We played 60 minutes, period."
The Brown Bears' goal in the first period came when Doug Beck deftly calmed a bouncing puck and found Matthew Cinader on the goal's doorstep.
David said the line of Brad Fusaro, Lubanski and Josh Royston had a solid game. He said Benton, with 35 saves, made the stops need to keep his team in the game, and also lauded the defense of Casey Kirley.
"Kirley kept it simple and at this point, simple is beautiful," David said. "That's exactly what I want out of my defensemen."
Wild 5, Brown Bears 3
Wenatchee 2 1 2 --5
Kenai River 1 2 0 --3
First period -- 1. Wenatchee, Jubinville (Mingo), 5:06; 2. Kenai River, Cinader (Beck, Rial), 7:40; 3. Wenatchee, McLean (Jubinville, Mingo), pp, 8:46. Penalties -- Wenatchee 3 for 6:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period -- 4. Wenatchee, McKenzie (McLean, Sliwinski), pp, 7:58; 5. Kenai River, Skinnars (Ramsey, Duwe), 8:30; 6. Skinnars (Duwe, Lubanski), pp, 19:10. Penalties -- Wenatchee 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period -- 7. Wenatchee, Burrell (un.), 1:15; 8. Wenatchee, Pauly (un.), pp, 19:31. Penalties -- Wenatchee 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal --Wenatchee 10-20-10--40; Kenai River 14-8-5--27.
Goalies -- Wenatchee, Jensen (27 shots, 24 saves); Kenai River, Benton (40 shots, 35 saves).
Power plays -- Wenatchee 3 for 4; Kenai River 1 for 5.
Wild 6, Brown Bears 1
Wenatchee 2 2 2 --6
Kenai River 1 0 0 --1
First period -- 1. Wenatchee, Mingo (Sliwinski, Jubinville), 5:47; 2. Wenatchee, McKellar (un.), 11:42; 3. Kenai River, Skinnars (Duwe, Lubanski), pp, 12:03. Penalties -- Wenatche 1 for 2:00.
Second period -- 4. Wenatchee, McKenzie (un.), sh., 10:35; 5. Wenatchee, Jubinville (Mingo, Sliwinski), pp, 18:00. Penalties -- Wenatchee 3 for 6:00; Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Third period -- 6. Wenatchee, Brodie (un.), 12:18; 7. Wenatchee, Mingo (Jubinville, Johnson), 15:19. Penalties -- Wenatchee 3 for 6:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal -- Wenatchee 14-23-17--54; Kenai River 9-10-11--30.
Goalies -- Wenatchee, Jaeger (30 shots, 29 saves); Kenai River, Martin (54 shots, 48 saves).
Power plays -- Wenatchee 1 for 3, Kenai River 1 for 6.
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