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It's all about winning now for Wilderness

Minnesota Wilderness (white) and Aberdeen Wings players battle during a last-second scrum during Saturday night's Central Division Championship Series Game Two. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal1 / 3
Minnesota Wilderness forward Pavel Mikhasenok plays the puck in the slot, in front of Aberdeen goaltender Forbes Ploszaj, on Friday in the Central Division Championship Series. The Wilderness fell 4-3 in overtime Friday but bounced back for a 3-2 win Saturday to even the series at 1-1. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal2 / 3
Minnesota Wilderness forward Gunnar Goodmanson carries the puck past Aberdeen's defense during Saturday's Central Division Championship Game Two. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal3 / 3

Forgive Minnesota Wilderness coach Tim Madsen if he feels a little bit like Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day."

The playoff alarm clock has just gone off after two games of the team's second round NAHL playoff series with the Aberdeen Wings, and his team is just where it was at the same stage of Round One — tied 1-1 in games with home ice advantage lost.

But the Wilderness rallied to defeat Brookings in five games in the first round, so there's both precedent and reason for confidence. Come to think of it, that was the mood two weeks ago as well.

So, is it Groundhog Day? Not to the coach.

"I don't think so," Madsen said. "I can say with confidence that we are focused and having fun. Sometimes that's a challenge at this level, especially late in the season."

The Wilderness lost a 3-0 lead in Friday's first game and fell 4-3 in double overtime with Logan Genuwine scoring the winning goal for the visitors. Luke Kania made 62 saves on 66 Aberdeen shots in a losing effort. Zach Mills, Louis Roehl and Tim Nicksic scored for the Wilderness.

The next night, with their backs against the wall, the Wilderness rebounded for a clutch 3-2 win. Again, the Wilderness grabbed a 2-0 lead through first period goals from Mills and Charlie Parker only to see it slip away — but Jesse Farabee snapped a 2-2 tie with a goal at 7:01 of the third period to level the series. Trevor Micucci stopped 40 of 42 Aberdeen shots for the win.

"I thought we were better on Friday," Madsen said. "I didn't think we were really sharp on Saturday, but we found a way to get it done in a must-win game."

Asked whether he would prefer a team that is sharp but loses to a team that grinds out a win, Madsen's answer was immediate. "This is all about winning now," he said. "This is a developmental league and we've been doing that, but we've played 60 games and had a100 practices. The time for development is over and it's all about one thing now."

And again, the Wilderness had a learning experience after losing the first game.

"The margin for error for learning is slimmer than a couple weeks back," he said. "We were in the same position in the Brookings series, and now we can build on that experience. It should build confidence. We go to a place where we've won before with a chance to win two hockey games, but if you win one, you have a chance to come home and play in front of the home crowd. That's why you work hard to win home ice."

While the overall situation is the same as during the Brookings series — tied at a game apiece — there is an important difference. Against Brookings, the Wilderness lost the second game, whereas against Aberdeen they won the second game. The momentum boost is important.

"That's interesting, because if you win the first and lose the second, maybe they have more urgency on Friday next week." Madsen said, "But maybe you have more confidence if you win the second. I think our guys are really confident."

Of course, if the Wilderness advance to the semifinals, all the remaining games will be played nearly at home, at the Duluth Heritage Hockey Center.

"They're playing in their backyard if they move on," Madsen said. "We've had great crowds at home, that seventh man who gives you energy when you need it. We have to find that extra ounce of energy and will, so we can treat our fans to their local team playing at home."

The Wilderness have four Duluth East players and Hermantown's Eric Gotz on the roster, all of whom have played extensively on the Heritage sheet.

"That's home ice for them," Madsen said. "All those kids have played on that sheet. If we are fortunate enough to get there, it will be an advantage."

But first the Wilderness will have to win. And there's only one way to do it.

"If we play as a team for 60 minutes each game this weekend, we can move on," Madsen said. "We have the same feeling of confidence in these players as coaches, and they have the same amount of confidence in themselves, to reach their end goal."