The NAHL Division Finals continue on Thursday and through the weekend, as all the spots in the 2012 NAHL Robertson Cup National Championship Tournament will be determined no later than Monday night, April 30th. Three teams: Kalamazoo, Topeka and Wenatchee, find themselves on the hot seat right off the bat on Thursday as they all play in their respective Game 3’s at home with their backs against the wall, each down 2-0 in their series. They say that the series clinching game is the most difficult to win, so Port Huron, Amarillo and Fairbanks can expect a fight from the home sides on Thursday.
On Friday, the two series that are deadlocked at 1-1 will resume as Austin hosts Bismarck in the Central Finals and Springfield hosts St. Louis in the Midwest Finals.
Central Division Finals
#3 Austin Bruins vs. #1 Bismarck Bobcats
(Series tied, 1-1)
So far: The Bruins knotted the series up at 1-1 thanks to a 4-3 win in overtime in Game 2. Now with the home ice advantage, Austin has a chance to win the series on home ice Friday and Saturday. Bismarck has done a great job of winning on the road in the playoffs in recent years, so it will be a tall order for the Bruins this weekend. If Game 5 is needed, it will be back in Bismarck on Monday, April 30th, a mere three nights before the Robertson Cup begins. 16 goals combined have been scored in the first two games as neither team has had a problem generating offense.
Midwest Division Finals
#3 Springfield Jr. Blues vs. #1 St. Louis Bandits
(Series tied, 1-1)
So far: After crushing the Jr. Blues 8-1 in Game 1, the Bandits were stifled in Game 2 by goaltender Gabe Antoni, who posted a 34-save shutout. With home ice wrestled back in their direction, the Jr. Blues now look out to close out the series at the Nelson Center in Springfield, a place they have won two of the last three meetings with St. Louis. Antoni will have to shine again, while St. Louis turns to Spencer Viele in goal. If the series does go to Game 5, it will be on Sunday, April 29th in St. Louis and means that the two teams will have played three games in three nights to decide the Division champion.
North Division Finals
#2 Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings vs. #1 Port Huron Fighting Falcons
(Port Huron leads series, 2-0)
So far: If Kalamazoo is going to generate a comeback for the ages, they have to start in Game 3 on Thursday and they have to find a way to score more goals. During the regular season, Kalamazoo ranked 6th in the NAHL, scoring 3.55 goals per game. However, they have been shut down in the first two games of the series with Port Huron, averaging just two goals per game. Brett Lewandowski has been a rock on the blueline for Port Huron with five points in the first two games.
South Division Finals
#2 Topeka RoadRunners vs. #1 Amarillo Bulls
(Amarillo leads series, 2-0)
So far: The question heading into Game 3 in Topeka on Thursday is, do the RoadRunners have the eight minute stretch in Game 1 where they saw a 5-1 lead evaporate in just over eight minutes behind them? Since that point, Topeka has scored just one goal in the last four periods of play as the Bulls take a 2-0 series lead to Topeka. Game 3 could see possibly 5,000 fans in Topeka on Thursday, so the RoadRunners hope to use that energy and momentum to get back into the series.
West Division Finals
#2 Wenatchee Wild vs. #1 Fairbanks Ice Dogs
(Fairbanks leads series, 2-0)
So far: The defending champs find themselves one win away from a return to the Robertson Cup Tournament to defend their title. Thanks in large part to the offensive heroics of Max Birkinbine, the Ice Dogs have now have three tries to win in Wenatchee, the exact same place they had to win last year to win the West on their way to the Robertson Cup. Having scored just three goals in the first two games of the series, the Wild are going to have to find a way to generate more offense starting in Thursday night’s Game 3.
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