All season long, Kenai River Brown Bears coach Oliver David has preached to his team the importance of closing out, and winning, close games.
His message will remain the same for at least one more day.
The Brown Bears allowed five goals in the third period and blew a two-goal lead en route to a frustrating 6-3 loss against the Alaska Avalanche of Palmer on Thursday night in front of 347 fans at the Soldotna Sports Center.
The loss snapped Kenai River's franchise-best, four-game winning streak and shrunk its lead from four points to two over the Avalanche for third place in the North American Hockey League's West Division.
Kenai River (10-9-2) and Alaska (10-9-0) square off again at 7:30 p.m. tonight and 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Both games are at the sports center.
"We have no choice but to rebound and come back strong tomorrow night," David said.
The Brown Bears took a 3-1 lead into the third period and held the advantage until the 13-minute mark, in position to secure their fifth win in as many games.
Alaska pulled within 3-2 with 12:50 left on a Brandon Brossoit power-play goal, assisted by Jacob Barber.
Seconds after the score, Kenai River's Chris Rial was called for tripping, putting the Brown Bears two men down. The Avalanche then converted before Kenai was back to full strength, with Brossoit finding the net again.
With the score tied, Jacob Barber converted two more power-play goals within a two-minute span to give Alaska a 5-3 cushion.
Jesse Ramsey, Sean Muller, Brad Duwe, Erik Persson and goalkeeper Mathias Dahlstrom of the Brown Bears were all called for penalties within the four-minute span in which Alaska scored the goals.
The calls left fans frustrated, but David said it's unfair to pin the blame on the officials.
"When you have a lead like that, you can't put the official in position to make judgment calls," David said of the string of penalties, which came after Kenai River had committed just one penalty in the first two periods.
A Zach Smith goal for Alaska inside the final minute made it 6-3.
It was a sudden turn of events after the Brown Bears broke a 1-1 tie with two goals in the second period, taking the lead into the third.
For Alaska, it was a much-needed win after dropping two games on its home ice against Kenai River last weekend.
"We just had to work hard for 20 more minutes," Alaska coach Brian Huebel said of the turnaround.
Muller gave the Brown Bears a 2-1 lead midway through the second, taking a Matt Thompson pass inside the crease in traffic and poking the puck to the left of keeper Landon Peterson.
Six minutes later, Kenai River padded its lead on a goal from Ryan Walker, who took a pass from Doug Beck and fired a shot. It was deflected, but Walker was there for the follow, beating Peterson to his right side. Brett Lubanski also was credited with the assist.
The Brown Bears had a goal called back inside the final minute of the second. It appeared as though Bobby Murphy found the back of the net with 17.7 seconds left, but he was called for shooting after the whistle and picked up a 10-minute penalty, nullifying the goal to the displeasure of the crowd.
The Avalanche broke a scoreless tie in the first period when Smith slipped a shot past Kenai River goalie Dahlstrom on an assist from Blake Huppert and Jake Williams at the 16:45 mark.
In a physical opening 20 minutes that saw Alaska commit six penalties and play short-handed much of the time, Kenai River finally capitalized when Duwe, a product of Soldotna High School, found the net on a power play with 2:54 remaining, finishing assists from Persson and Lubanski.
The equalizer came less than a minute after Alaska put a fourth man on the ice following a 15-second period in which it played two men down.
Kenai River had five power-play chances in the first period, while Alaska had none.
AVALANCHE 6, BROWN BEARS 3
Alaska 1 0 5 --6
Kenai River 1 2 0 --3
First period - 1. Alaska, Smith (Huppert, Williams), 3:15; 2. Kenai River, Duwe (Persson, Lubanski), pp, 17:06. Penalties - Alaska 6 for 12:00; Kenai River none.
Second period - 3. Kenai River, Muller (Thompson,) 9:09; 4. Kenai River, Walker (Beck, Lubanski), 15.21. Penalties - Alaska none; Kenai River 1 for 10:00.
Third period - 5. Alaska, Brossoit (Barber), 7:10; 6. Brossoit (Pearson, Barber) pp, 8:17; 7. Alaska, Barber (Brossoit) pp, 13:47; 8. Alaska, Barber (Brossoit, Williams) pp, 15:49; 9. Alaska, Smith (Huppert, Dye), 19:03. Penalties - Alaska 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 7 for 22:00.
Goalies - Alaska, Peterson (36 shots-33 saves); Kenai River, Dahlstrom (40 shots-34saves)
Power plays - Alaska 3 for 6; Kenai River 1 for 8.
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