A second period where the momentum had more swings than a school playground culminated in two Minnesota Wilderness power-play goals that propelled them to a 4-2 victory over the Springfield Jr. Blues and a sweep of the two-game series.
The period began with the Wilderness leading 1-0 on a goal by Bobby Metz, but the Jr. Blues had a strong start to the middle frame. A Wilderness penalty led to Tristan Shewchuck beating Matt Smith on the power play to even the score at 1. Springfield would then take their first lead of the weekend 2:32 later on Hagen Moe’s 27th of the year, and it appeared the Jr. Blues were about to take over the game.
Things changed from that point. A penalty on Noah Marino put Minnesota on its first power play with 9:28 remaining. After keeping the Wilderness without a shot on the man-advantage for the first minute, Gunnar Thoreson snuck one past Springfield goaltender Aksel Reid on a sharp-angle shot along the extended goal line to make it 2-2 with 8:22 left. Thoreson’s 16th goal was assisted by Barrett Hall and Jared Mangan.
The Wilderness worked quicker on its next power-play which led to Springfield’s top scorer Cole Dubicki to the box. After receiving a pass from Hall along the left wing wall, Ethan Wolthers skated to the middle of the face-off circle to Reid’s right and ripped wrist shot that beat Reid on the glove side, and allowed the Wilderness to regain the lead at 3-2 with 3:30 left in the 2nd. It’s the 16th goal of the season for the Wilderness captain and his 3rd game-winner.
For the 2nd, Minnesota (33-21-2) ended up outshooting the Jr. Blues 18-10, despite falling behind Springfield (34-19-3) in the shot count in the first few minutes of the frame.
An empty-net goal by Max Neill in the 3rd period completed the scoring for Minnesota, resulting in the 4-2 final score.
Matt Smith picked up his 2nd straight win, stopping 19 of 21 shots. His best save came with a minute remaining when he denied Springfield defenseman Mac Gadowsky on a point-blank chance with 1:00 left in the final period. It’s the 3rd win of the season for Smith over the team he began the season with, and he improved his overall NAHL record to 13-1-1.
Reid suffered his 2nd straight loss for Springfield, as his record fell to 8-5-1.
The win ensures the Wilderness will remain in third place through the weekend in a chaotic Midwest Division where the two teams chasing them for the final playoff spot are in the middle of 3-game weekends. As of the writing of this recap, Minnesota sits five points ahead of both Anchorage and Janesville. Anchorage is in the middle of game 2 of a home series vs Chippewa with one more game Saturday night, while Janesville has two more games left on the weekend.
Meanwhile, the Wilderness moved within 3 points of Springfield and Fairbanks, who are tied for first place. Fairbanks tonight is playing game 1 of its 2-game weekend series in Kenai River.
Minnesota will continue its pursuit to nail down a playoff spot next weekend, as they face a crucial test in Janesville. The two-game weekend series will kick off Friday night vs. the Jets at Janesville Arena.