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Aberdeen Wings soar in Game 3 for a 2-1 series lead over the Minotauros

Alex Eisen/MDN Aberdeen Wings forward Adam Pitters (left) stares down a wide-open net for his second goal of the game Friday evening against the Minot Minotauros at Maysa Arena.

Cowbells and air horns set the mood at the start of Game 3 Friday night at Maysa Arena.

The Aberdeen Wings wasted no time in ruining the electric atmosphere.

With the best-of-five game Central Division finals series tied at 1-1, the top-seeded Wings exerted their dominance over the No. 2-seeded Minot Minotauros in a hostile environment to regain home ice advantage.

Aberdeen upended Minot on the road, 7-2, in a critical Game 3 showdown.

“I’m kind of at a loss for words,” Minotauros head coach Marty Murray said. “I can’t believe how bad we were. We didn’t give ourselves a chance from the get-go. That’s disappointing. You need your guys to step up and play. It was men against boys from the drop of the puck.”

Alex Eisen/MDN Minotauros forward Andrew Kangas skates the puck up the ice Friday against the Aberdeen Wings in Minot.

A frantic first six minutes featured three goals.

Aberdeen silenced a rowdy Minot crowd 98 seconds into the game. Jonathan Bendorf turned a Minotauros turnover into an assist, setting up Adam Pitters for a one-timer from close range.

The Wings doubled up with Riley Murphy making a poke check at the blue line to start a 3-on-1 Aberdeen rush. A backdoor pass over to Joe Strada left Minotauros goaltender Nicholas Grabko in no man’s land, 2-0.

“We looked scared,” Murray said. “We looked like we didn’t really have a pulse. Everything you hope doesn’t happen, happened tonight.”

The Minotauros attempted to wake up from this nightmare start with a fluky goal. Just 46 seconds after Strada’s goal, Minot forward Cole O’Connell found the back of the net by getting a timely deflection off an Aberdeen skate.

Wings goaltender Matt Vernon couldn’t react quick enough to prevent O’Connell’s first goal of the postseason.

“We have some guys that need to check into the series,” Murray said. “Our best line has been our so-called fourth line for three games. Hats off to (Aberdeen), they are playing hard and well. But, you can’t win with one line going.”

Nearing the end of the first period, a drop pass in the slot freed up Tim Makowski for the Wings’ third goal.

Aberdeen killed off two Minot power plays across the end of the first period and the start of the second period.

The Minotauros’ third man-advantage backfired as well. The Wings broke out of their defensive zone with a three-man breakaway.

Pitters buried the short-handed rush.

Four minutes later, Strada scored his second goal of the game on the power play.

Things had gotten ugly and out of hand for the Minotauros. Grabko was pulled for backup goaltender Ben Garrity.

“I can’t put my finger on what went wrong, just everything did,” Murray said.

Trailing 5-1 entering the third period, Minot was playing to find any momentum to carry into a must-win Game 4 tonight.

The exact opposite happened, as Aberdeen scored two more goals in the first minute of the period from Bendorf and Nic Sicoly.

The once hyped crowd started to slowly dwindle.

The final 19 minutes ticked off with the Minotauros struggling to even get a shot on goal. But, with 21.8 seconds left, Vince Marino scored his first goal of the playoffs for a rather pointless add-on at the end of the game.

The Wings skated off with the 7-2 win. Vernon made 15 saves, as Aberdeen outshot Minot 26-17.

The Minotauros are now in the same situation they found themselves in last year in the first round of the NAHL Playoffs, down 2-1 to the Wings entering Game 4. They won the next two games to defy the odds and advance.

“It’s two wins,” Murray said. “It’s not going to be easy. But, sure, it can be done. It happens at every level, every round. We got to make a complete 180, though, from tonight’s game to look like a hockey team.”

Game 4 this evening will have another 7:35 p.m. puck drop. Regardless of the result, it will be the final home game for the Minotauros this season at Maysa Arena. A victory sends the Minotauros back to Aberdeen, South Dakota, for Game 5. A loss means the end of the season.

Alex Eisen covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @AEisen13.

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