Burn the boats.
That’s the motto the Aberdeen Wings have taken into the 2022 Robertson Cup playoffs.
Essentially, burning boats represents a point of no return, solely focusing on succeeding. And that’s exactly what they did when they traveled to the Austin Bruins for the opening weekend of the Central Division semifinals, skating to a 3-2 win Saturday night inside Riverside Arena and sweeping the Bruins on their home ice.
The teams traded penalties in the opening period, with Wings goaltender Anton Castro coming up big several times to keep the Bruins off the board. Near the middle of the period and the Wings on their second power play, Landry Schmuck was brought down in front of the crease, but the Wings cycled the puck around on the delayed penalty. Dominic Schimizzi fired just ahead of the blue line and Schmuck was there to redirect the puck into the back of the net at the 12:12 mark, notching his first postseason goal. Schimizzi grabbed his first post-season assist, while Devon Carlstrom got his second.
The Wings were immediately awarded another penalty and the Bruins staved off the attack, and each team traded shots for the remainder of the period. Aberdeen outshot Austin 11-8 and went 1-3 on the power play, and skated into the first break leading 1-0.
Aberdeen got themselves into penalty trouble in the middle period. The Bruins scored on their first power play opportunity of the period from Jens Richards at the 4:56 mark to tie the game at one. But Aberdeen got the go-ahead again at the 9:49 mark when Cade Neilson won a face-off in the Bruins’ zone and the puck landed on the stick of Ronan Walsh, who fired it from the circle past Austin netminder Klayton Knapp. Walsh grabbed his first postseason goal, while Neilson and Bosse picked up their first postseason assists.
The Wings went on the penalty kill less than 30 seconds after taking the 2-1 lead, and the Bruins took advantage of another power play opportunity when a lot of contact made things difficult for Castro, and Carson Riddle was able to get the puck past the goal line to tie the game again at the 11:22 mark in the second.
With less than five minutes on the clock, the Wings went on the penalty kill for the fourth time in the period, fifth overall in the game. But with time winding down on the Bruins’ power play, Will Gilson got the puck and fired from Austin’s blue line directly at Knapp, who blocked the shot but sent the rebound in front of the crease — and Owen DuBois came flying in to fire the rebound back at him and in at the 17:27 mark. The shorthanded, eventual game-winner was DuBois’ first postseason goal, while Gilson and Allais each picked up their first post-season assists.
After having four power plays and not giving the Wings a chance with the man-advantage, the Bruins outshot the Wings 16-9 in the middle period but still trailed by one heading into the final intermission.
The Wings faced adversity in the third period with Austin showing increased zone presence, and even struggled to generate offense on two power play opportunities. But Castro stood solid in net to help his team keep the lead, making several saves that sent the crowd groaning. Knapp was pulled from between the pipes just after a timeout at the two-minute mark, but the Wings managed the extra attacker and took the 3-2 win when the final horn sounded.
The Bruins took eleven shots in the final period while holding the Wings to just three, but Wings head coach Steve Jennings said he was pleased with his team’s defensive game and ability to manage Austin’s chances, especially in the third.
“We did what we had to, but they certainly built momentum,” he said. “We spent too much time in our d-zone, but we made it hard for them to execute.”
In addition to several players stepping in front of myriad shots, Castro was able to keep his eyes on the puck, even when the Bruins packed in the pressure in the game’s closing minutes.
“He was tremendous,” Jennings said of Castro, who went 47-51 on the weekend. “He stood tall when we needed him to and he shut the door. He was a difference maker.”
The Wings’ power play unit went 2-7 over the weekend while the Bruins went 3-8. Seamus Campbell notched two goals, while Schimizzi had a goal and an assist and Carlstrom and Kyle Gaffney
Seamus Campbell led the scoring for Aberdeen, notching two goals over the weekend. Dominic Schimizzi recorded a goal and an assist, while Kyle Gaffney and Devon Carlstrom each added two assists for Aberdeen, who now holds a two-game lead over the Bruins in the hunt to advance to the Central Division finals.
“It’s a good feeling,” Jennings said of his team’s cushion in the standings. “We played two intense games that we had to work to win. I loved the compete and buy-in from the group.”
The proverbial burning of the boats will happen again this weekend when the teams face off for Game 3 — their seventh consecutive — this time at the Odde Ice Center in Aberdeen on Friday, April 29. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and the puck hits the ice at 7:15 p.m. Fans can purchase tickets ahead of the game online at tickets.AberdeenWings.com, or at the door. $10 general admission tickets will also be available at any C-Express location in Aberdeen, with additional purchase, starting Monday.
If the Wings win Friday, they’ll clinch the semifinal bout — a loss will send the series to Game 4 on Saturday, April 30, also at the Odde.
“We need more consistency in the game and just playing simple and hard,” Jennings said of the upcoming weekend. “They did a good job with that this weekend.”
And he’s hoping for one other important element.
“We need a big crowd — they always help and make the Odde such a special place to play in.”
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