All she wrote

By JASON FELDMAN

Rochester (Minn.) Post-Bulletin

AUSTIN, Minn. – This one stings a little bit more.

The Minot Minotauros have had this feeling for four consecutive years, being knocked out of the North American Hockey League playoffs by the Austin Bruins.

For the first time, though, Minot entered a series against the Bruins as the higher seed.

It didn’t matter, however, as two evenly matched teams played four evenly matched games in a NAHL first-round playoff series, and Austin came out on top, winning Saturday’s Game 4 3-2 at Riverside Arena to win the series 3-1.

“Austin did a good job of (limiting our chances),” Tauros coach Marty Murray said, “but overall our compete level wasn’t where it needed to be for this time of the year.”

Saturday’s outcome marked the third time in four years that Austin has defeated the Tauros 3-1 in a first-round series. The Bruins also beat the Tauros 3-2 in the Central Division finals last season. Austin has reached the division finals for a fourth consecutive year; it has won the past two.

For the Tauros, it’s a bitter loss to swallow, as Minot had entered the playoffs on a high note. It won 35 games and challenged rival Bismarck for the Central Division regular season championship down to the final weekend before the Bobcats edged the Tauros by two points for the No. 1 seed in the divisional playoffs.

That left Minot with the No. 2 seed and another date with the Bruins in the division semifinals.

“Hats off to Austin,” Murray said. “Their big players stepped up all series and that’s what you need this time of year.”

Austin took control of the game in the second period.

Jade Miller scored his third goal of the series just 34 seconds into the period for a 2-1 Austin lead, and the Tauros were on their heels for the next 10 minutes.

Bruins defenseman Paul O’Connor made it 3-1 when he pinched in from the point and scored top-shelf from the left circle at 5:17.

Austin continued to pressure and nearly went up by three goals when Zach Kennedy hit the crossbar 8:20 into the period.

Minot coach Marty Murray called his timeout two-and-a-half minutes later. The Tauros held Austin’s offense in check the rest of the period, but could not capitalize on their own scoring chances.

“They just outworked us in the second and got a couple and that was the difference,” Murray said.

The teams traded goals in the first period, as Jacob Paganelli scored for Austin and Jared Brandt answered with a good-bounce power-play goal for the Tauros. Sam Fuss dumped the puck in around the boards and, as Austin goalie Kris Carlson attempted to play it, it took a hop off the end wall, right to Brandt, who tucked it in an open net.

Christian Mohs added an extra-attacker goal with 48.5 seconds left but the Tauros couldn’t get another quality scoring chance.

“This is an awesome group of kids and that’s the hardest part,” Murray said. “We felt we had a team that could have taken a serious run at things.”