As has been the mantra through the first two postseason meetings, the Minot Minotauros and Austin Bruins took each other's best shot in a nip-and-tuck contest that went beyond the 60-minute regulation time.
After losing in overtime at home last Saturday, the Bruins returned the favor as A.J. Reid scored the game-winner at seven minutes, two seconds of the sudden-death period for a 3-2 win over Minot on Friday at Maysa Arena.
Reid's clincher, his second goal of the game and third in the playoffs, came on a backhander in front of the net with two Minot defenders draped all over him. The victory gave Austin a 2-1 lead in the Central Division semifinal best-of-five series and puts the Bruins one game away from ending the Tauros' season.
Minot Minotauros forward Jadin Martin eyes the puck in front of Austin (Minn.) forward A.J. Reid during a North American Hockey League Central Division playoff game Friday at Maysa Arena. Reid scored the game-winning goal in overtime.
"I wasn't real happy," Tauros coach Marty Murray said. "I thought we had a few guys that weren't quite up to snuff. And when we play like that, it's hard for us to win. We need everybody."
Playing in their first home playoff game in program history, the Tauros fed off the cheers from the near-capacity crowd and took the early lead at 1:28 of the opening period. With Austin goaltender Nick Lehr screened, Minot forward Lucas Oliver wristed a backhander from the slot past the 6-foot netminder. It was Oliver's first goal of the playoffs.
Austin responded a few minutes later on the power play to tie the contest. The Bruins' power-play unit had been silent in the first two games, but broke through just 17 seconds into Tauros forward Mason Morelli's checking-from-behind penalty.
John Simonson collected a rebound in front of the net and beat Tauros goaltender Tyler Parks, who made the initial save on the Austin forward. Prior to Simonson's goal, Austin had been 0-for-6 on the man advantage in the playoffs.
"We came out hard, but we probably didn't give the 60-minute effort we should have," Oliver said. "We got it to overtime, but it was a tough break."
Morelli also received a 10-minute misconduct for the infraction and was forced to sit out the bulk of the first period.
The Tauros' power play had their best opportunity of the night midway through the opening frame when Austin was called for back-to-back penalties 45 seconds apart. But Lehr and the Bruins defense stymied the extended 5-on-3 power play.
The Austin penalty kill unit was tested on more than one occasion. After fighting off the 5-on-3 power play, Bruins forward Drew Anderson was issued a five-minute major and a game ejection for kneeing Tauros forward Jadin Martin. Austin fought off the penalty, recording more quality scoring chances than Minot during the five-minute stretch.
"Those are huge momentum-builders one way or the other," Murray said, "Even if you don't score, you can get energy and chances. Unfortunately, they probably had more chances than us, especially on the five-minute major. It's shame on us."
The teams traded goals in the second period, highlighted by Minot forward Wesley Iverson's tally in the final minute to knot the game at two heading into the intermission. Iverson's goal was his second of the playoffs.
Austin can close out the series with a win tonight at 7:35 at Maysa Arena. Bismarck awaits in the divisional final.
"It's life or death for us," Murray said. "We'll see what our guys are made of."