Thrilling OT win sends Wings to Central Division Finals

Nineteen-and-a-half seconds.

That’s how much time was left on the clock in overtime when Kyle Gaffney got the game-winning goal Sunday night inside the Odde Ice Center in Aberdeen.

The win sends the Aberdeen Wings onto the Central Division finals, where they’ll face the Bismarck Bobcats. Action starts Friday night inside the Odde.

The Wings wanted to get off to a hot start in Sunday’s Game 5 matchup — and they did just that when Nico deVita took a pass between the circles for a power play goal at the 5:52 mark in the first period. He scored his first postseason goal, while Payton Matsui and Clayton Cosentino each notched their third postseason assists. The Wings outshot the Minotauros 15-9 in the opening period and skated into the first intermission leading 1-0.

At the 3:13 mark in the second, the Wings gave themselves a bit of a cushion when Cosentino picked up a rebound in front of the net. That was his second goal of the postseason, and Liam Fraser and Jakob Stender each grabbed their first postseason assists.

The Minotauros got back within one, however, when Damon Zimmer got his first goal of the series at the 10:41 mark. But just less than three minutes later, Will Arquiett sent a shot at the goal and Natan Vertes was there to grab the rebound, putting the Wings up 3-1. Vertes got his second goal of the series, while Arquiett and Cullen Ferguson each picked up their second assists. After once again edging out Minot in shots on goal, this time 13-10, the Wings skated into the final break with the two-point cushion.

Minot came out fighting in the third. Aberdeen took nine shots while holding the Minotauros to just six, but two of those found the back of the net. The first came from Ethan Schmunk at the 5:44 mark to put Minot within one. Then, with time trickling down and an extra attacker on their side, Kyle Kukkonen tied the game with just 28 seconds remaining on the clock. And for the second time in the five-game series, the two teams headed to overtime.

In the extra 20 minutes of hockey, Aberdeen took plenty of shots on Minot’s Keenan Rancier, peppering him with 13 shots while only allowing the Minotauros eight. When it seemed like another double overtime was in the cards, Kyle Gaffney took a pass from Jordan Randall to give the Wings the win at the 19:41 mark, sending Aberdeen onto the Division Finals. It was Gaffney’s first postseason goal, and Matsui’s fourth and Randall’s second postseason assists.

“Minot was a very opportunistic team this series. They seemed to capitalize on every mistake,” Wings head coach and general manager Scott Langer said. “I like the way our guys didn’t give in when the game became tied. We learned some valuable lessons in this series that will continue to make us strong in the divisional finals.”

The Wings went 50 percent on the power play, going 1-2, and remained perfect on the penalty kill, holding the Minotauros to 0-3.

Minot gave Aberdeen plenty of trouble in the semifinal round, scoring 14 goals while only allowing 15 overall. Rancier was a force to be reckoned with between the pipes for Minot — those 15 saves came on 244 shots against, a .939 save percentage. In Sunday’s matchup, he denied 46 of 50 shots, while Aberdeen’s Jake Sibell turned away 30 of 33. He finished the series with a 2.19 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage, overall denying all but 13 of the 170 shots fired his way.

For Langer and his Wings, they’ll have a short break before the Bobcats get to Aberdeen.

“We will have a good week of preparation working on the areas we need to improve,” he said.

The first two games of the Central Division Finals will take place inside the Odde on Friday and Saturday, June 4 and 5. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. both nights and the puck drops at 7:15 p.m. Fans can purchase their tickets ahead of the game at tickets.AberdeenWings.com or at the door. $10 general admission tickets can also be purchased at any of the four C-Express locations in Aberdeen, with additional purchase. As always, the game’s audio is broadcast over Hub City Radio’s 94.1 The Rock.