Austin Bruins lose two-goal lead, game in NAHL playoffs opener against Aberdeen
The Austin Bruins took a two-goal lead into the third period of an NAHL playoff game Friday night, against a team that they had beaten eight out of 12 times this year. The Bruins lost that lead and Game 1 of the best-of-5 series against Aberdeen.
AUSTIN — The snowball was rolling downhill, toward Aberdeen Wings goalie Anton Castro.
Then, in the closing minutes of the second period, the Wings began to push back and they carried that momentum into the third period of Game 1 of a North American Hockey League Central Division semifinal playoff series at Riverside Arena.
In the third, the Wings turned the snowball into powder. They scored four times — including the game-winning goal with just 1:19 remaining in the game — to turn a two-goal deficit after two periods into a 4-2 victory against the Austin Bruins.
Aberdeen stole the win and home-ice advantage in the series. Game 2 of the best 3-out-of-5 series is set for 7:05 p.m. Saturday at Riverside Arena.
“I said it to our guys, you have to have a short memory and have a bounce-back tomorrow,” Bruins coach Steve Howard said. “We controlled that game for the most part and we had it going into the third, up by two goals. They say that’s the worst lead in hockey and we proved it.
“... It’s just a scenario where you need to have guys step up in the playoffs at the right moment and we didn’t have it tonight in the third.”
Austin was playing in its first playoff game in more than three years on Friday, while battle-tested Aberdeen was the NAHL Robertson Cup runner-up last season. Still, Austin got off to the better start.
Bruins forward Anthony Menghini scored in the first period with less than 30 seconds to go in the first period for a 1-0 lead, finishing a pretty feed from Walter Zacher, who deked a defender in the slot to deliver the set-up pass.
Alex Trombley made it 2-0 with 4 minutes to play in the second period, beating a defender with a burst of speed along the wall, crashing to the net and flipping a backhand shot past Wings goalie Anton Castro.
It was all Aberdeen from that point on. The Wings outshot the Bruins 21-5 over the final two periods and 28-16 in the game. Austin spent much of the final 30 minutes of the game just trying to get the puck out of its own zone.
The Bruins had a good opportunity to go up by three goals late in the second period, though, when defenseman Adam Schuchart took an interference penalty with 2:21 to play. But the Bruins failed to gain momentum and, in fact, allowed Aberdeen two odd-man chances while it killed the penalty.
Austin had controlled the season series between these teams, going 8-3-1 in 12 meetings with the Wings in the regular season. But Aberdeen won the final matchup of the regular season, last Saturday in Aberdeen, and it rallied again Friday in Austin to take a lead in their playoff series.
Seamus Campbell scored twice in the first 4:35 of the third period to tie the score 2-2. That’s how it remained until the final 90 seconds of the game.
Aberdeen’s game winner came on a play off of a faceoff to the left of Bruins goalie Klayton Knapp (24 saves). The Wings won the faceoff and sent the puck toward the top of the crease, where Dominic Schimizzi found himself unchecked and tucked a backhand around Knapp’s outstretched pad for a 3-2 lead, the Wings’ first of the game, with 1:17 to go.
“We get down to the last couple of minutes, put our accountable guys out there who are supposed to know what to do on a (faceoff) win or loss,” Howard said. “We don’t engage off the faceoff, let their guys go right through, our center loses his guy, their middle guy gets to the net and puts it in the back of our net for the game winner.
“At that point, we’re chasing the game. For them to score three in the third, hats off to them. They did a great job and our guys didn’t.
“I told my assistants, one-goal games are all (about) coaching. We put the wrong guys out at the wrong time and we have to be better.”
Jacob Bosse added an empty-net goal on a 180-foot shot from his own zone with 59 seconds to play to cap the scoring.
“For our guys, we just have to make sure we’re playing with poise and act like we’ve been here before,” Howard said. “There are some guys who are playing in their first (playoff) games and — you know what? — it showed, but we can’t have that the rest of the way.”
CENTRAL DIVISION SEMIFINALS
Game 1: Aberdeen 4, Austin 2
Game 2: Saturday, Aberdeen at Austin, 7:05 p.m.
Game 3: April 29, Austin at Aberdeen, 7:15 p.m.
x-Game 4: April 30, Austin at Aberdeen, 7:15 p.m.
x-Game 5: May 2, Aberdeen at Austin, 7:35 p.m.
x — if necessary