Oliver David said his team needed to play its best to have any chance at winning in the playoffs.
So far, that hasn't happened.
The Kenai River Brown Bears were steamrolled on consecutive nights in the first round of the 2011 North American Hockey League playoffs, losing to the Fairbanks Ice Dogs 5-1 on Friday and 6-1 on Saturday at the Big Dipper Ice Arena in Fairbanks.
The Bears drop to 0-7-1 this season at the Big Dipper, 0-8 all-time in the playoffs and trail the best-of-five series 2-0.
They will face elimination when they host Game 3 at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Soldotna Sports Center. Game 4, if necessary, would be played at the same time Saturday at the sports center.
In other first-round action, the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild defeated the Alaska Avalanche of Palmer 4-1 Friday and 4-3 in overtime Saturday, taking a 2-0 series lead. The winner of that series faces the Fairbanks-Kenai River winner in the next round.
"We had to come up here and be above average against the best team in our division, and we were about average," David said. "We were going to need outstanding goaltending and outstanding defense, and we got 11 goals scored against us in two games."
Goaltenders Mathias Dahlstrom and Josh Benton had tough goes against the NAHL's highest-scoring squad. On Friday, it was Dahlstrom who faced the potent offense. On Saturday, it was Benton.
Neither had much success, though David said it's unfair to pin the blame solely on the goalies because neither played terribly.
"We are not the type of team that can have the goalie have just an OK performance and still win," he said. "The goaltender is such a big part of this. At times we need a goalie to steal a few minutes for us -- maybe be the most valuable player of the game -- for our team to get a spurt or a gain some confidence."
A little under six minutes is all it took for the Ice Dogs to seize control in Friday's win before 1,999 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.
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 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.
Benton finished up, stopping all nine shots he saw.
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."
On Saturday, Fairbanks built a 2-0 lead through the first period and turned it into a three-goal lead early in the second.
Jensen gave the Ice Dogs a 1-0 lead midway through the first when he finished an assist from Gabe Levin. Brock Carlson made it 2-0 inside the four-minute mark on an assist from Jack Callahan. Stampohar then made it 3-0 less than a minute into the second, converting assists from Linnell and Charlie Thauwald.
Those goals came against Benton, who finished with 25 saves on 31 shots, although David said Fairbanks' second goal came off a deflection by a Kenai River player.
Kenai River got its first goal when Jesse Ramsey took a pass from Kyle Keenan and beat Phillippi with 12:37 to play in the second. It didn't take Fairbanks long to answer, however, as Hodge made it 4-1 about two minutes later.
Two goals in the third was more than enough as the Ice Dogs celebrated a five-goal advantage in front of 2,043 fans.
Erick Ware had a strong game on Saturday, David said, but he added that if the team is to have any chance in Game 3, more players must contribute.
"They are on a run and they will come into Game 3 with a lot of confidence and skate well," David said of the Ice Dogs, who got 24 saves from Phillippi on Saturday. "We are going to have to throw everything at them and we are going to need great performances from more than just a handful of players."
Dahlstrom has already been named the Game 3 starter in net, and David isn't ready to concede the series. Kenai River is 4-1-1 against Fairbanks this season at the sports center.
The coach added he hopes for a large showing of fans for what will be the squad's first home playoff game since 2009 -- and possibly its last game of the season.
"No one is really negative and no one is turning on each other. Everybody really wants to win and prove we are worthy," David said. "Obviously a little dejected, but it's really not over."
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.
Ice Dogs 6, Brown Bears 1
Kenai River 0 1 0 --1
Fairbanks 2 2 2 --6
First period -- 1. Fairbanks, Jensen (Levin), 10:50; 2. Fairbanks, Carlston (Callahan), 16:39. Penalties -- Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Second period -- 3. Fairbanks, Stampohar (Thauwald, Linnell), pp, :30; 4. Kenai River, Ramsey (Keenan), 7:23; 5. Fairbanks, Hodge (Hajdukovich, Voigt), 9:20. Penalties -- Kenai River 6 for 20:00; Fairbanks 4 for 8:00.
Third period -- 6. Fairbanks, Munson (Linnell, Hajdukovich, 2:31; 7. Fairbanks, Vierling (Voigt, Callahan), pp, 18:07. Penalties -- Kenai River 4 for 8:00; Fairbanks 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal -- Kenai River (9-8-8--25); Fairbanks (13-10-8--31).
Goalies -- Kenai River, Benton (31 shots, 25 saves); Fairbanks, Phillippi (25 shots, 24 saves).
Power plays -- Kenai River 0 for 5; Fairbanks 2 for 6.
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