Posted by: Feldman
As I wrote in today's paper, there are plenty of reasons for the Austin Bruins to not let down this weekend.
Sure, the Bs have their third consecutive NAHL Central Division title wrapped up. Sure, they'll be at home for at least the first two rounds of the playoffs.
But think back to last season, when Austin reached the Robertson Cup semifinals for the first time ever. They had to play three tough games down in Topeka, Kan., in the national semifinals. They bused back home late on a Saturday night, then had to turn around three days later and spend a day traveling to Fairbanks for the Robertson Cup national championship series.
There's a decent chance the Bruins could again advance to the national semifinals and they'd prefer to not have to get on a bus and travel to Kansas or Texas or Pennsylvania, or wherever the standings may dictate they go.
After the first two rounds of the NAHL playoffs, the home team for the national semifinals and finals are determined by which team had more points in the regular season standings.
The Janesville (Wis.) Jets have locked up home-ice advantage for as long as they continue to win games and playoff series.
Beyond the Jets, six teams are still in line to finish the regular season with the second-most points, behind Janesville:
1. Janesville 96 pts. (2 games remaining)
2. Lone Star Brahmas 84 pts. (2 games remaining)
3. Wichita Falls 83 pts. (2 gms rem.)
4. Austin 83 pts. (2 gms rem.)
5. Topeka 82 pts. (3 gms rem.)
6. Fairbanks 80 pts. (2 gms rem.)
7. Minnesota Wilderness 80 pts. (3 gms rem.)
Wichita Falls will finish with more regular season wins than Austin (39-36 right now), so WF would win the tie-breaker.
Even if Austin doesn't leapfrog enough teams to finish with the second-most points, it would still be ideal to finish with the third-most, and avoid a matchup with Janesville in the Robertson Cup semifinals.
But, I'm getting way ahead of things here. The Bruins have two final regular-season games to play this weekend, against a Brookings (S.D.) team that has been eliminated from the playoff chase and has nothing to play for. Then the Bs would have to win a pair of playoff series against division rivals.
So ... this weekend's games. They're at 7:05 p.m. Friday in Austin and 7:15 p.m. Saturday at Brookings. if nothing else, the Bs want to keep playing well and keep this momentum going that they've built since the start of 2015.
By the way, bring your checkbooks on Friday. The Bs will auction off their jerseys after the game.
We hear every day about this amazing hot streak the Minnesota Wild are on (and it is remarkable). But the Bs have been on a pretty nice run of their own. They're 19-3-3 since a New Year's Eve loss to Coulee Region, with all three regulation losses in this run coming against Brookings.
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THIS WEEKEND'S SERIES
BRUINS vs. BROOKINGS BLIZZARD
(7:05 p.m. Friday at Riverside Arena, Austin; 7:15 p.m. Saturday at Brookings)
Records: Brookings 19-30-9 (47 pts., 5th in NAHL Central); Austin 36-11-11 (83 pts., 1st in NAHL Central).
Head coaches: Brookings, Dan Daikawa (1st season, 19-30-9 overall); Austin, Chris Tok (5th season, 191-105-30 overall)
Blizzard's top scorers: F Beau Michaud (17-32--49); D Zach Glienke (16-21--37); F Nate Colwell (11-22--33); F Joe Anderson (14-14--28); D Ben Campbell (7-17--24).
Blizzard goalies: Ryan Kubic (10-14-5, 2.63 GAA, .910 save pct.); Eric Hancock (8-12-4, 3.15, .891)
Bruins top scorers: F Trevor Boyd (26-22--48); F Alex Pettersson (8-32--40); F Nico Sturm (11-28--39); F Tony Uglem (20-17--37); F Luke Dietsch (9-25--34).
Bruins goalies: Jake Kielly (19-5-6, 2.19 GAA, .904 save pct.); Evan Smith (11-1-2, 1.79, .922).
TALE OF THE TAPE
Records (points): Brookings 19-30-9 (47); Austin 36-11-11 (83)
Head-to-head (points earned): Brookings 3-5-2 (8); Austin 7-3-0 (10)
Offense: Brookings 2.37 goals per game; Austin 3.40 goals per game
Defense: Brookings 3.30 goals per game allowed; Austin 2.33 goals allowed
Power play: Brookings 19.1 pct. (9); Austin 13.4 pct. (22)
Penalty kill: Brookings 83.2 pct. (13); Austin 89.8 (1)
Goaltending (save pct.): Brookings .897; Austin .909
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These teams have already met 10 times this year, with Austin going 5-3-0 vs. Brookings. ... Forwards Brian Bachnak and Nico Sturm have played very well against Brookings this season. They're tied with the most points by a Bruins player against Brookings, with nine apiece. ... Austin has made a habit of getting off to strong starts this season, outscoring its opponents 54-31 in the first period and 76-48 in the second. ... The Bruins have the No. 1-ranked penalty kill in the NAHL and have scored 10 short-handed goals this season. ... Bruins goalie Evan Smith has won four consecutive starts.
No need to overthink this. Brookings has nothing to play for. The Bruins have plenty. This isn't to say that Brookings will roll over and play dead. The Blizzard will put up a fight -- as always -- but the Bruins have larger goals in mind and they want to go into next weekend's playoff series against Aberdeen on a high note. Austin's top line (Trevor Boyd-Luke Dietsch-Tony Uglem) has been red-hot the past couple of weeks. Boyd alone has nine points in his past five games. Austin's defensive corps is deep and the Bs have learned to win games in a number of different styles. They'll close the regular season strong: Bruins 5-1, Bruins 4-3.