The sense of urgency Minot Minotauros coach Marty Murray was hoping to see this weekend against the Austin Bruins was clearly present Friday night at Maysa Arena.
Fighting for their playoff lives, the Tauros played one of their better games of the season, topping the Central Division leaders 3-1. It was just Minot's second victory against the Bruins (34-18-1) in seven attempts this season.
"I thought we finally played like a team that was desperate tonight," Murray said. "Obviously, where we are at in the standings, it's a pretty big game for us. I thought our guys responded."
Minot forward Jake McCann skates past Austin’s Cory Dunn (4) and Easton Vitala (27) during the third period Friday at Maysa Arena.
Minot's win, coupled with Brookings' lopsided loss to the Aberdeen Wings on Friday, gives the Tauros (21-29-3) a six-point advantage over the Blizzard for the final playoff spot in the division with seven games left in the regular season.
"It was a big win for us," Minot forward Tim Donohue said. "We've gotten dominated by Austin this whole year. This is what we need right now. We're playing well toward the end of the season."
The Tauros broke open a tightly-contested game with three goals in a span of 10 minutes in the second period. Forward Jake Howie netted the first at 6:15, beating Austin goaltender Dillon Kelley over the shoulder with a backhander in front of the net.
"We were just hungrier," Murray said. "We were able to capitalize on a few more chances than we had in the past, but we need to regroup for tomorrow."
Colton Kramer tallied Minot's second goal at 15:21 of the second period, deking his way past a Bruins defender en route to sliding the puck past Kelley. Austin's netminder, the second-stringer behind usual starter Nich Lehr, wasn't who the Tauros were expecting to see, but they weren't complaining.
A minute after Kramer put the Tauros up 2-0, Donohue made it a three-goal lead, knocking in a bouncing puck in front of the net. Minot held a 14-6 advantage in shots during the middle frame.
"Second period was just hard work," Donohue said. "Our coaches really focus on hard work. Our bread and butter is our forecheck and that's how we gain success."
What the first period lacked in scoring, it more than made up for in the physicality department. The opening frame produced 18 shots and perhaps more haymakers. With 7:37 left in the first, Minot's Jordan Stejskal and Austin's Alex Pettersson dropped the gloves prior to a faceoff and duked it out near center ice. Both landed their share of punches before taking each other to the ice.
The teams combined for 16 penalty minutes in the first period.
Austin's Niko Hildenbrand spoiled Minot goaltender Brandon Wildung's bid for a shutout, scoring at 4:37 of the third period. Wildung finished with 28 saves and stymied the Bruins for the final 3:30 with Kelley pulled for an extra skater.
Minot and Austin meet again tonight at 7:35 at Maysa Arena.
Mike Kraft covers high school athletics and hockey. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.