Coming into the Central Division semifinal round, the third-seed Aberdeen Wings knew they’d be facing a tough foe in the second-ranked Austin Bruins.
But the Wings completed the sweep of the Bruins Friday night inside the Odde Ice Center in Aberdeen, going 3-0 on the series after a dominating 6-3 win in front of a packed crowd. And it was lights out for the Bruins.
With 17:02 remaining on the clock in the third period, the lights went out inside the arena and across northern Aberdeen. The dark rink was illuminated by hundreds of cell phone lights as fans waited patiently to see if power could be restored and the game could be finished. And thanks to diligent work from the power company, the lights came back on just over an hour later, ten minutes before the referees would have to postpone the remainder of the game.
“Weirdest night of hockey, ever,” Wings head coach Steve Jennings said after the game. “It’s funny; Zach (Stepan) and I were going to talk to the kids and we got halfway down the hallway and you could hear them talking to each other about what they needed to do, so we didn’t have to say much. They owned the process of staying focused and accepting the fact that those guys were going to come out and push and they weren’t done. The guys did a good job of staying fresh and coming out ready to go. Honestly, I thought both teams came out ready to play, which was good.”
Similar to owning their process of finishing the game, the Wings owned most of the first two periods as well. Aberdeen opened up scoring in the game at the 6:01 mark when Mason Kelly won a puck battle in the corner and flipped a backhanded shot at Bruins netminder Klayton Knapp; Kelly’s shot was blocked, but Anthony Galante was there to pick up the rebound and fire it into the back of the net. Galante got his first postseason goal, while Kelly notched his first postseason assist and Hugo Allais got his second.
The Bruins had a chance to even the score on a turnover deep in Aberdeen’s zone, but Devon Carlstrom stripped the puck and sent it over to Ronan Walsh, who chipped it up the wall to Cade Neilson. Neilson skated in and centered a perfect pass to Jacob Bosse, who dragged around Knapp for a backhand shot at the 13:30 mark. Bosse grabbed his second postseason goal, while Neilson notched his second postseason assist and Walsh picked up his first.
But the Wings weren’t done yet — less than three minutes later and right after a face-off in the Aberdeen end, Bauer Barry found the puck and fed to Walsh at the center line, who skated in and around a Bruins defender, into the crease and around Knapp to give the Wings the 3-0 lead at the 15:56 mark. The goal was Walsh’s second in the postseason, while Barry and Jackson Yee each grabbed their first postseason assists. And after the goal, Knapp was pulled from between the pipes and replaced by Ethan Robertson.
The Bruins ruined the Wings’ shutout chances in the period’s final minute when Nick Catalano scored at the 19:14 mark just after Aberdeen killed their first penalty of the game. Each team took eleven shots on goal in the opening period, but the Wings skated into the first intermission leading 3-1.
Austin opened up the second period taking two penalties in just over a minute, which led to a five-on-three attack for Aberdeen. And the Wings made them pay when Will Gilson fed the puck over to Neilson, who fired a one-timer from the bottom of the circle for the 4-1 lead at the 2:58 mark. The power play goal was Neilson’s first in the postseason, while Gilson grabbed his second postseason assist and Kyle Gaffney notched his third.
Each team killed off two penalties in the middle stanza and played a bout of four-on-four hockey after coincidental penalties, but the Wings outshot the Bruins 12-6 and carried the three-goal lead heading into the game’s final period. Wings goaltender Anton Castro came up big several times during a penalty kill to close out the period, and the Bruins started the third period on a brief power play.
Just over three minutes into the period, the lights went out — and over an hour later, the power was restored and each team was allowed ten minutes to redress in the locker room, followed by a ten minute warmup period. And the game resumed just shy of 11 p.m.
Despite the long delay, the Wings seemed to hold onto their momentum in the final period. They increased their lead to 5-1 at the 11:41 mark when Patrick O’Connell grabbed the puck following a face-off in the Austin zone and walked it in to the middle, firing it past Robertson for his first postseason goal, while Kelly picked up his second assist of the game.
That’s when Austin really tried to make things interesting, and they certainly did, to an extent.
With around seven minutes remaining on the clock and down by four goals, they pulled Robertson from between the pipes to give themselves the extra attacker — and the strategy worked when Alex Trombley scored at the 12:17 mark. Robertson returned to the net when the Bruins went on the kill with just over five minutes to play, but he was pulled again when the Wings took a penalty themselves over a minute later. With the 6-on-4 attack, Austin brought the game to 5-3 when Jack Malinski scored at the 17:26 mark.
With over a minute left on the clock and Austin’s net empty, Galante forced a turnover at the blue line and Bosse took a shot, which was blocked by a Bruins defender — but Galante was there to grab the rebound and score the game’s final goal at the 18:41 mark, notching his second of the game, while Bosse added his second postseason assist and Gaffney got his fourth.
And with that, the Wings took the 3-0 sweep against the Bruins, advancing to the Central Division finals against a currently-unknown opponent — the winner between the St. Cloud Norsemen and the Bismarck Bobcats. Bismarck won their matchup Friday night, taking a 2-1 series lead ahead of Game Four tonight in Bismarck.
“Anytime you get a sweep, it’s great,” Jennings said. “It’s about the process and getting it done. The guys played a really good series and stuck to the game plan and executed, and it was great. That’s what we’ve been working on all year. Really proud of them.”
Austin outshot the Wings 19-10 in the final period, overall outshooting Aberdeen 36-33 in the contest. Both teams went 1-5 on the power play. And despite giving up four power play goals over the course of the three games, Jennings said he was happy with how his team came out against a tough opponent.
“We stayed on the game plan for the whole series and I think that’s the important part for the guys,” he said. “You play 60 games in the regular season and you want them to be playing great and be right up on task, but that whole regular season is about investing the effort and development to get ready for the playoffs. I thought in this series we played some very complete games.”
Austin carried a 8-3-1 record over the Wings in the regular season and were the likely favorite heading into postseason play. But Aberdeen carried the momentum gained from the final game in the regular season and never looked back.
“For us, we knew we didn’t want to go back to Austin for a possible Game Five. The opportunity was there to really get it done,” Jennings said of Friday’s game on home ice. “I thought the guys did a good job of pushing back and getting things going. Losing home ice, it was what it was. I felt like we could have done better to close out the regular season series against them but I thought through the last series we built good momentum, so no matter how we went we were going to be okay with them.”
Wings goaltender Anton Castro has been a solid force between the pipes for his team. In Friday’s game, he denied 33-36 — overall in the series, he turned away 80 of the 87 shots he faced, good for a .920 save percentage.
“Anton has done a really good job of establishing himself as our go-to guy,” Jennings said. “He stood tall and kept us in the game. He made some big saves and settled the play when we needed it done, and I’m super happy with him. He’s shown who he is as a goalie.”
The Wings will wait to see who comes out of the other division semifinal game. If the Norsemen win Saturday night, they’ll push the series to Game Five back in St. Cloud on Monday, May 2. And if they complete the series, they’ll also take home-ice advantage for the first round of the division finals the following weekend, meaning the Wings will hit the road again.
If Bismarck wins the series, the Wings will take home-ice advantage as the higher seed in the final round.
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