The Aberdeen Wings found themselves in an unfamiliar place Saturday night inside the Odde Ice Center, trailing 2-1 heading into the game’s final period.
But they took the game into their own hands and, three goals later, skated away with the 4-3 victory over the Minot Minotauros, claiming Game 2 of the Central Division semifinal round and the 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series.
Minot scored two unanswered goals late in the first period — the first from Tyler Kostelecky at the 15:08 mark and the second less than two minutes later off a quick shot from Kyle Kukkonen, who grabbed his second goal of the series. The Minotauros spent a lot of time in Aberdeen’s zone, outshooting the Wings 11-9, and skated into the first intermission with the 2-0 cushion.
Aberdeen struggled to find their footing again in the second period, going on the power play three times — including a brief 5-on-3 stint — but failed to get on the board. Finally, at the 18:04 mark, Cade Neilson centered a pass from behind the net and Spencer Schneider connected with it between the circles, putting the Wings on the board and shifting the momentum. Schneider got his first postseason goal, while Manty and Neilson each got the assist. Aberdeen got back on top in the shots-on-goal category, outshooting the Minotauros 12-9, and headed into the final break down by one.
The third period was full of action — and it all started with a game-tying goal from Payton Matsui when he took a backdoor pass from Kyle Gaffney just under four minutes into the period. Matsui grabbed his first postseason goal, while Gaffney and Jordan Randall each notched their first postseason assists.
The two teams traded penalties before Aberdeen found themselves on the five-on-three advantage late in the period. That’s when Trevor Russell got his first postseason goal, his second in his junior hockey career, firing from beyond the circle to give the Wings their first lead of the game at the 17:17 mark. Ferguson picked up the assist, as well as Neilson, who notched his second of the game and fourth overall in postseason play.
The Wings had 50 seconds remaining on the power play, but they only needed 20 seconds to give themselves the cushion they so desperately wanted. Matsui fired from the circle, and Wings captain Clayton Cosentino was there to nudge the puck into the Minotauros’ net, putting Aberdeen up 4-2. Matsui recorded his first postseason assist while Nico deVita grabbed his second.
Following the huge momentum shift, Aberdeen found themselves on the penalty kill and Minot pulled goalie Keenan Rancier, giving the Minotauros the 6-on-4 advantage. Shortly after, the Wings took another penalty and, with Rancier still on Minot’s bench, faced a 6-on-3 attack. With just nine seconds remaining in regulation, Minot got one back when Blaine Warnert found himself open in front of the Wings net to put the Minotauros back within one.
After the face-off and with 9.8 seconds left on the clock, Aberdeen won the draw and sent the puck into the Minot zone to let time expire. However, after the final buzzer sounded, four seconds were added back to the clock and both teams took the ice again, this time with Rancier back between the pipes. But the Wings were able to keep the puck out of their zone and took the 4-3 win.
Wings head coach and general manager Scott Langer felt the momentum shift heading into the final period, in which they once again outshot Minot 16-11, scoring on three of those tries.
“Big players show up at big times, and Neilson to Schneider for that goal going into the third was big,” he said.
Overall, Aberdeen outshot Minot 37-30, going 2-6 on the power play while holding the Minotauros to 1-3. Rancier stopped 33 of those shots, while Jake Sibell denied 27. He sits at a 2.00 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage after two semifinal bouts.
The Wings will head north to Minot for Game 3, facing the Minotauros inside the Maysa Arena on Thursday, May 27. With plenty of action right up until the final buzzer Saturday night, Langer is confident his team is ready to hit the road.
“That third period fired us up,” Langer said. “We knew if we stuck to our game, we could get the result we needed. That should make for a good week of preparation and a ready team come Thursday.”
The puck drops at 7:05 p.m. in Minot. Wings fans can watch the game using their HockeyTV login or live at Buffalo Wings & Rings in Aberdeen.