A little under six minutes. That's all it took for the Fairbanks Ice Dogs to take control in a 5-1 victory over the Kenai River Brown Bears in the opening game of the North American Hockey League playoffs Friday at Big Dipper Ice Arena in Fairbanks.
The best-of-five series between the Ice Dogs, the West Division champions, and the Brown Bears, the fourth-place team from the West, continues Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Fairbanks. Kenai River, looking for the first playoff win in franchise history, is 0-6-1 at the Big Dipper this season. Friday's game drew 2,000 fans.
The game was tied at 1 with 11:43 left in the second period when John Stampohar, on assists from Brandon Carlson and Alexander Jensen, lit the lamp for the Ice Dogs, who were the league's top-scoring team in the regular season.
Kenai River coach Oliver David said the goal was tough to swallow. He said Stampohar's body was behind the net when he took the shot. David said his defense and goalie Matthias Dahlstrom were in nearly perfect position for the shot.
"He scored from the tightest possible angle," David said.
Up until that point in the game, David said the play was even, or possibly even tilting to the Brown Bears. Kenai River outshot Fairbanks 12-8 in the first period and 12-11 in the second en route to a 31-all draw for the game.
David said after the goal, his team fell off from an elite level of play for just a few minutes. That was more than enough opening for the explosive Ice Dogs, who return a number of players from the team that lost in the Robertson Cup finals last year.
Goals from Alec Hajdukovich and JT Osborn had the Ice Dogs up 4-1 with just 5:59 left in the second period.
David said Dahlstrom played fine, but did not play well enough to win a playoff game against the high-powered Ice Dogs.
"He could have been much better," David said. "In the second period, there are some of those goals that we'd like to have back. Some were a little soft and really broke our backs. It was an unfortunate few minutes."
Dahlstrom played until 13:51 was left in the game, making 17 saves on 22 shots. He came out after Tyler Munson scored for a 5-1 lead.
Josh Benton finished up, stopping all nine shots he saw. David said he has not decided which goalie will be in net Saturday night.
"We need outstanding goaltending," David said. "To me, that's an obvious statement when you are playing against the highest-scoring team in the league."
David said the team also could have played better in front of the goalies.
"We need goaltending, and we need everyone on the team to compete very well," David said. "We had those things happening, they were just at different times."
Heading into Saturday's game, David said the team will look to build on the first period, the third period and the beginning of the second period.
David said his team played at an elite level in the first period. After Preston Hodge scored with 1:13 left in the first period to get the Ice Dogs on the board, Brett Lubanski, on assist from Soldotna product Brad Duwe, tied the game with nine seconds left in the first.
David said a turnover at midice led to a two-man breakaway on Fairbanks netminder Joe Phillippi, who made 30 saves for the game. After some tic-tac-toe passing between Lubanski and Duwe, Lubanski roofed a forehand.
"We went into the locker room thinking our theories and systems were working," David said. "Our energy was high. We had goaltending. Our defense was playing well and moving pucks quickly."
After the six-minute nightmare in the second period, David said his team came back in the third period.
"We were back on an even keel," David said. "It was a very promising display for (Saturday)."
David said the Brown Bears were not down after the game.
"Our season is nowhere near over," David said. "In another 60 minutes we could be even with them, or not. I wouldn't say the mood is light, but the mood is not dull and down. I think they wish we were playing them again right now."
Ice Dogs 5, Brown Bears 1
Kenai River 1 0 0 ~1
Fairbanks 1 3 1 ~5
First period ~ 1. Fairbanks, Hodge (Thauwald, Vierling), 18:47; 2. Kenai River, Lubanski (Duwe), 19:51. Penalties ~ Fairbanks 2 for 4:00.
Second period ~ 3. Fairbanks, Stampohar (Carlson, Jensen), 8:17; 4. Fairbanks, Hajdukovich (Munson, Linnell), 12:38; 5. Fairbanks, Osborn (Jensen, Levin), 14:01. Penalties ~ Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Third period ~ 6. Fairbanks, Munson (Hajdukovich, Linnell), 6:09. Penalties ~ Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal ~ Kenai River 12-12-7~31; Fairbanks 8-11-12~31.
Goalies ~ Kenai River, Dahlstrom (22 shots, 17 saves), Benton (9 shots, 9 saves); Fairbanks, Phillippi (31 shots, 30 saves).
Power plays ~ Kenai River 0 for 3; Fairbanks 0 for 3.
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