The Kenai River Brown Bears were eliminated from the playoff chase with a 5-2 loss to the host Bismarck (North Dakota) Bobcats on Saturday.
The loss ends a run of six straight seasons in the postseason for the Bears. The only other season the Bears failed to qualify was in their first campaign in 2007-08.
Kenai River, which has lost four straight, is at 14-38-2, good for 30 points in the North American Hockey League Midwest Division. The Minnesota Magicians won Saturday to move to 20-29-3, good for 43 points. With just six games left, the Bears can’t catch Minnesota.
Bismarck, which is third in the central at 28-22-2, took a 1-0 lead in the first period.
In the second, the Bears scored two power-play goals in the first 1 minute, 14 seconds, to take a 2-1 lead. The tallies came from Kenai Central product Zack Zulkanycz, assisted by Jack Gessert, and Matt Rudin, assisted by Adam Kresl. Bismarck would then tie the game before the end of the second period.
In the third period, the Bobcats scored a pair of short-handed goals to take a 4-2 lead. They then scored in the empty net with 10 seconds left.
Alec Derks had 33 saves for the Bears, while Hunter Shephard made 16 saves for the Bobcats.
Friday, the Bears fell 1-0 to the Bobcats.
“I thought we had the chances,” Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said. “I guess it’s just frustrating for the guys to work so hard and play so well, yet they can’t take pressure off the defensemen or goaltending by spotting them a goal or two early.
“It’s not that the guys aren’t working hard to make it happen, the results just haven’t been there. You have to tip your hat to the goaltender.”
Shepard had 18 saves for the Bobcats, while Evan Hauser made 42 for the Bears. But Beauparlant said many of the Bobcats’ shots were from the outside.
“Even on the power play, everything was from the outside,” Beauparlant said. “Of course, Evan made three or four saves he shouldn’t have made, but those are the types of saves a goaltender must make to keep you in the game.”
Beauparlant said Shepard was good early, as two-thirds of the Bears first nine shots were Grade A scoring chances. Even after going down 1-0 on Evan Giesler tally with 6 minutes, 51 seconds, left in the game, the Bears still got a breakaway and a chance with Hauser pulled but couldn’t convert.
Beauparlant said the game-winning goal bounced off Hauser’s face mask, hit Bismarck in the shoulder, then went in.
“I’m happy with how we competed,” Beauparlant said. “As a coach, I’m happy with how the guys are still working even though they know time is ticking away a lot faster than anticipated.”
Defenseman Quinton Wunder returned to the lineup after sustaining a concussion Feb. 14 against Fairbanks. Captain and defenseman Tyler Andrews served the first game of a two-game suspension for the accumulation of too many checking from behind penalties.
The Bears play in North Dakota against the Minot Minotauros on Friday and Saturday.
Bobcats 1, Brown Bears 0
Kenai River 0 0 0 —0
Bismarck 0 0 1 —1
First period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Bismarck 2 for 4:00.
Second period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 1. Bismarck, Giesler (Souto, Brown), 13:09. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Bismarck 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 9-7-2—18; Bismarck 12-14-17—43.
Goalies — Kenai River, Hauser (43 shots, 42 saves); Bismarck, Shepard (18 shots, 18 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 3; Bismarck 0 for 5.
Bobcats 5, Brown Bears 2
Kenai River 0 2 0 —2
Bismarck 1 1 3 —5
First period — 1. Bismarck, Turcotte (un.), 15:30. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; 4 for 8:00.
Second period — 2. Kenai River, Zulkanycz (Gessert), pp, 0:42; 3. Kenai River, Rudin (Kresl), pp, 1:14; 4. Bismarck, Brown (Pike), 6:41. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Bismarck 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 5. Bismarck, Pike (Batna), sh, 6:03; 6. Bismarck, Perry (un.), sh, 15:08; 7. Bismarck, Spooner (Giesler), en, 19:50. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Bismarck 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 6-4-8—18; Bismarck 14-10-14—38.
Goalies — Kenai River, Derks (37 shots, 33 saves); Bismarck, Shepard (18 shots, 16 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 2 for 6; Bismarck 0 for 5.