After a 5-1 loss to the host Fairbanks Ice Dogs on Friday, the Kenai River Brown Bears are still in control of their fate in the playoff chase.
Before the Bears took the ice Friday, the host Coulee Region (Wis.) Chill was losing 3-2 to the Minnesota Wilderness in a shootout — the sixth-straight loss for the Chill.
That shootout loss left the Chill with 63 points, one point behind Kenai River (28-23-8).
Both the Chill and Bears have one game remaining, and neither can catch the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild for the third spot anymore after the Wild lost 3-2 in a shootout to the Aberdeen (S.D.) Wings on Friday.
The Bears drop the puck with the Ice Dogs tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
Win, and the Bears are in the playoffs. Lose, and all eyes will be on the game between the Minnesota Magicians and Chill at 2 p.m. ADT Sunday. All the Chill, who are 7-4 this season against the Magicians, need to do to make the playoffs is tie the Bears in the points column since Coulee Region has the tiebreaker.
“There was a little bit of disappointment in how we didn’t finish around their net, and it was a disappointing loss, but their spirits turned quickly,” Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said. “They know they have another shot tomorrow and all you can ask is to control your own destiny.
“We have to come ready to play, have good preparation, and put all our chips in the middle.”
The Bears had 10 points in seven games coming into Friday’s contest, but Fairbanks, which has clinched the league’s best record, responded before a crowd of 2,242 after yielding three points in two games to the Bears last weekend.
Beauparlant said the Bears had the better of the chances early in the game, and not capitalizing came back to haunt them.
“We had chances,” Beauparlant said. “We had two power plays, two breakaways and a couple two-on-ones.
“If we capitalize on those, it’s a completely different story.”
Beauparlant said the momentum turned on a power-play goal by Brett Gervais with 9 minutes, 47 seconds, left in the first period.
The Kenai River coach said Fairbanks had the better of the chances from that point forward. Tayler Munson had the lone goal of the second period to put the Dogs up 2-0.
Beauparlant said Fairbanks goalie Kevin Aldridge had two big saves in a 3-on-2 rush late in the second period.
“That really could have changed the momentum going into the third,” Beauparlant said.
The Ice Dogs kept rolling with goals by Lonnie Clary and Johnny Mueller in the first 1:15 of the third.
“That was the backbreaker,” Beauparlant said. “I give the guys credit. They didn’t fold like they did a month and a half ago.”
Nathan Colwell, on assists from Zack Zulkanycz and Christian Luiten, scored with 15:47 left, but the second power-play goal of the game by Gervais sewed things up with 4:49 to play.
Beauparlant said Colwell came back with a good game after sitting last weekend.
“The consistency wasn’t there in the execution, the physical play and the compete level,” Beauparlant said, adding it was nice to see 15 to 20 people make the trip north to support the Bears. “When you don’t have that, a team like Fairbanks is going to capitalize when you give them the opportunities we gave them.”
Zach Quinn had 23 saves for the Bears, while Kevin Aldridge had 27 saves for Fairbanks.
Ice Dogs 5, Brown Bears 1
First period — 1. Fairbanks, Gervais (Clary, Lagrone), pp, 10:13. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Fairbanks 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 2. Fairbanks, Munson (Burgess), 17:21. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 3. Fairbanks, Clary (Vedel, Gervais), 1:06; 4. Fairbanks, Mueller (Olsson), 1:15; 5. Kenai River, Colwell (Zulkanycz, Luiten), 4:13; 6. Fairbanks, Gervais (Vedel, Bushey), 15:11. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 7:00; Fairbanks 2 for 7:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 7-12-9—28; Fairbanks 7-13-8—28.
Goalies — Kenai River, Quinn (28 shots, 23 saves); Fairbanks, Aldridge (28 shots, 27 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 3; Fairbanks 2 for 3.