Three special teams’ goals helped the Minnesota Wilderness contain a desperate Wisconsin Windigo squad and win game 4 of the Midwest Division Finals, 5-3 Saturday, clinching the series at 3-games-to-one and advancing to the NAHL Robertson Cup semifinals.
The win marks Minnesota’s first division championship since it won the Midwest and the Robertson Cup in 2015.
A short-handed goal from Adam Johnson midway through the second period proved to be the game-winner. Johnson cashed in when he and Reid Daavettila converted on a 2-on-1 break that was sparked by an outlet pass from Gustavs Ozolins. Daavettila carried the puck into the Windigo zone on the left side and delivered a pass directly to the tape of Johnson’s stick which allowed the forward from Mahtomedi, MN, to lift the puck over the outstretched left leg of goaltender Gavin Moffatt to make the score 4-2.
That goal with 10:31 left in the 2nd period was the second SHG from Johnson in the series and third straight game in which the Wilderness PK lit the lamp.
The Windigo would get one more to pull within one goal with 10:13 left in the third from Drew Fisher. The Wilderness then held on for the win, thanks in part to an empty-net goal from Beau Janzig and good puck protection that kept the puck mostly along the boards and away from the front of the Minnesota goal.
The Wilderness also scored two first period power play goals that helped stem a Wisconsin surge that resulted in 19 Windigo shots on goal in the opening frame. Just 1:34 after Victor Widlund scored to give Wisconsin a 1-0 lead, Kevin Marx Norén evened the score with his fifth of the playoffs, which resulted from a shot from the slot that was set up by Michael Quinn and Sawyer Scholl with 9:01 left in the first.
The same trio then were involved in the Wilderness’ 2nd tally with the man-advantage. This time it was Marx Norén and Quinn setting up Scholl, who whipped the puck past Moffatt from the right circle with 1:56 left in period 1 for his first playoff goal, which gave the Wilderness a 2-1 lead.
Wisconsin would get a power play goal of its own with six seconds left in the opening stanza to tie the game at 2. Frank Jenkins’ shot from the right circle was the Windigo’s first red-lighter with the extra man in the playoffs, and the first post-season goal allowed by Minnesota’s penalty kill.
That Windigo power play was the result of a double-minor for high sticking assessed on Wilderness forward Charlie Erickson. Most of the second half of that double-minor carried over to the 2nd period, but this time, the Wilderness kept Wisconsin off the scoreboard, and a short time later, regained the lead.
Oliver Stümpel put Minnesota ahead for good at the 3:00 mark with this second goal of the playoffs. Brian Lonergan and Scholl assisted on the tally. Lonergan carried the puck into the Windigo end on the right side of the blue line and fed it to Scholl along the right boards. Scholl then found Stümpel positioned near the post to Moffatt’s right and beat the goaltender with a quick tap-in to put his team in front, 3-2.
In goal, Isak Posch improved his playoff record to 6-1 stopping 33 of 36 Wisconsin shots, as the Windigo dominated the Wilderness in shots on goal at 36-19. Most of Wisconsin’s shots came in the first period where it had a 19-8 advantage.
For the second straight game, the Windigo ended up using two different goal tenders. Moffatt was replaced by Max Beckford after Johnson’s short-handed goal in the 2nd period. Beckford finished the night stopping all six shots he faced in relief of Moffatt. Moffatt encountered 12 shots and made eight saves.
The Wilderness had its best game in the second round on the power play, going two-for-three. Meanwhile its penalty kill finished allowing one goal on five chances.
The game was marred by what appeared to be a serious injury to Marx Norén. The veteran forward ended up being taken to a local hospital after colliding against the boards at a high rate of speed while in pursuit of the puck. No penalty was called, although Windigo forward Victor Widlund was next to Marx Norén when he lost his balance and then Widlund’s momentum also carried him into the boards where he made further contact with Marx Norén.
It is unclear how serious Marx Norén’s injuries may be and whether he will return in this post-season.
The remaining games in these playoffs will be held next weekend at Fogerty Arena in Blaine, MN. The Wilderness will take on the NAHL’s top overall seed — the South Division champion Oklahoma Warriors — in a best 2-out-of three semifinal series set to begin at 4:30 p.m. CDT on Friday, May 19.