The Minot Minotauros entered Game 3's tilt with the Austin Bruins hoping they wouldn't have to travel back to Minnesota again this season.
They'll have to if they wish to keep their season alive.
The Tauros allowed two first-period goals and couldn't overcome the early deficit, falling 2-1 on Friday at Maysa Arena. With the win, the Bruins recaptured home-ice advantage and can eliminate the Tauros from the playoffs with a win tonight at 7:35 at Maysa Arena. Austin is 3-0 all-time in Minot during the postseason.
Austin goaltender Nick Lehr makes a save on Tauros forward Jadin Martin (15) during the first period of Game 3 on Friday at Maysa Arena. The Bruins hold a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series.
Michael Louria recorded three shots in a Game 3 loss to Austin.
Neither team looked sharp in the opening 10 minutes, but Austin found its way following the media timeout. The Bruins fired 18 shots on Tauros goaltender Merrick Madsen in the first period, with Casey Jerry scoring the first goal at 12:01. Jerry beat Madsen glove side with a shot from the right faceoff circle.
"First period was a letdown," Minot forward Tim Donohue said. "We definitely have to come out stronger in the first period. It's the biggest period in the game, I think."
Niko Hildenbrad put Austin up 2-0 with 3:31 left in the first period. Hildenbrad got his stick on a loose puck in front of the net and slid one by a sprawling Madsen. Luke Dietsch was credited with the assist.
"They took it to us in the first period," Tauros coach Marty Murray said. "Getting up 2-0 after one is a pretty nice position to be in. That first period obviously hurt us."
If you didn't know that Austin and Minot didn't like each other, the second period was all you needed to see to tell you. The teams combined for 18 penalties totaling 56 minutes. The second period featured two fights, a game misconduct, an unsportsmanlike and four delay of game infractions.
Donohue and Austin's Cory Dunn dropped the gloves with 9:19 left and Minot's Luke Voltin and Austin's Brian Bachnak followed suit less than three minutes later. Voltin took exception to an open-ice hit on him by Bachnak and duked it out with the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Bruin.
"It's just the heat of the moment," Donohue said. "We dislike each other on the ice. It doesn't mean anybody's a bad guy, it's just how hockey is, especially in the playoffs. Tensions get high and that's just how it is."
The penalties started early as the Tauros found themselves on the wrong side of a 5-on-3 power play just three minutes into the middle stanza. Minot managed to kill off both penalties unscathed.
"I think both teams probably would take a second look at their discipline," Murray said. "We took some penalties we didn't want to take. Playoff time you have to take some shots and suck it up, sort of speak."
Four seconds after Donohue and Dunn traded haymakers, Austin's Jake Arroyo was whistled for abuse of officials and a game misconduct, giving the Tauros a 5-on-3 for 1:40. They, too, couldn't find the back of the net with the extra skaters.
Minot got a second 5-on-3 opportunity after Dunn cross-checked Minot's Jacob Howie into the side boards after the whistle with a Bruin already in the box. The Tauros took advantage this time as defenseman Jon Lizotte fired a slap shot past Austin goaltender Nick Lehr with 57 seconds left in the marathon second period.
Needing a goal to force overtime, Minot managed just five shots in the third period and couldn't generate any quality scoring chances with Madsen pulled in the final moments.
"As a group we were looking for more than that," Murray said. "It looked like we were chasing the puck rather than having control."
Madsen finished with 36 saves. Lehr stopped 27 shots to get the win.
Mike Kraft covers Minot High athletics and the Minot Minotauros. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.