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Minotauros clinch postseason berth in 4-3 OT loss to Bismarck

Ryan Ladika/MDN Ross Roloson (middle) takes a wrist shot from the right circle during the first period of Minot's Friday night contest.

The Minot Minotauros fell to the Bismarck Bobcats 4-3 in overtime Friday evening, but clinched their eighth consecutive postseason berth by virtue of the single point they did earn in the losing effort.

Minot entered its Friday contest in need of just one point to clinch the third of four playoff spots in the NAHL’s central division after a 4-5-1-1 month of April. The first-place Aberdeen Wings and second-place Bobcats had already locked in their playoff spots entering the night’s action.

The May 7 matchup also represented the 11th meeting between the two squads, building upon a season series that, until Friday, was so tight it squeaks. Five of the previous 10 games were decided by one goal, with Minot earning wins in three of those five and four of the 10 overall.

Bismarck had utilized a much more fluid goaltender rotation than Minot throughout the season, and the visitors gave Cameron Korpi the nod between the pipes for his 14th appearance of the season. The Bobcats’ netminder boasted a .925 save percentage in his previous 13 games, and had allowed fewer than two goals per game in that span.

The Minotauros once again turned to Keenan Rancier for his second start of the month and 41st game of the season overall. Minot’s mainstay in the blue paint has been a source of stability for much of the 2020-21 campaign despite facing the most shots of any goaltender in the league, as Rancier carried with him a .914 save percentage and a goals-against average of just over three per game into his Friday start.

Minot allowed the game’s first shot on net 11 seconds into the contest, but quickly settled in and put a flurry of shots on net that soon culminated in their first score. Eight minutes and 22 seconds into the initial frame, Cade Stibbe, Minot’s leader in points, received a pass from Jay Buchholz in the left circle.

The forward paused a moment and unleased an accurate wrist shot that found its way over Korpi’s left shoulder and into the back of the cage for the icebreaker and his 13th goal of the season. The score represented his third point in his last five contests and his 10th since the beginning of April.

A mostly balanced period later ended with a minor collapse in the defensive zone for Minot. Quinn Rudrud and Lars Rodne both tallied goals in the final five minutes to give the visitors a 2-1 lead, the second of which came with 38 seconds to play.

A litany of penalties would greet both teams to begin the middle period, the last of which saw Minot take advantage of its man-advantage. With Bismarck’s Jack Conroy serving the fifth of five penalties between the two teams in the first eight minutes of the second period, Minot captain Jack Westlund provided Damon Zimmer a pass from behind the Bobcats net on the left side.

Zimmer let go a quick one-time shot from the left circle that slid past Korpi and tied the game at two goals apiece on the power play. His score was his 13th of the season, and Westlund’s helper marked his 18th of the year. Tyler Kostelecky was also credited with his 14th assist of the year.

Another Minot penalty sucked the air out of the team’s sails, and Nico Chmelevski scored off a rebound allowed by Rancier 13 minutes and 25 seconds into the period to give Bismarck its one-goal lead right back.

The Minotauros, who had spent the majority of the contest outshooting the Bobcats, finally saw their fortunes improve late in the third period. It took until the 18th minute of the frame, but Minot recorded the equalizer courtesy of Brett Roloson’s 16th tally of the year with two minutes and 10 seconds to play.

Skating with the benefit of another power play thanks to a too-many-men infraction, Buchholz retrieved a rebound off the blocker pad of Korpi in the left corner and flicked it back up the ice to Kyle Kukkonen, who in turn ripped the puck across the ice to Roloson. The 6’1″ forward ripped a shot past the Bismarck netminder for his sixth score of the year, and the crowd erupted with glee.

An eventful three-on-three overtime period awaited the two clubs, one that saw Rancier came through with a crucial kick-save around the three-minute mark. The Minotauros were unable to solve Korpi for a fourth time, though, and Rodne notched his second goal of the game and third point with 56.9 ticks on the clock to walk Minot off.

Thanks to the one point Minot did earn to move to 23-22-5-2 with 53 points on the season, the Minotauros clinched their eighth consecutive postseason berth. Assuming the current standings hold, Minot will also meet the Bobcats in the first round of the playoffs in a couple of weeks.

Minot will look to bounce back against Bismarck Saturday evening, with puck drop again scheduled for 7:35 p.m.

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