Wilderness disrupt Jets’ flight path
For the Minnesota Wilderness, as for just about any team you could name, one is definitely better than none.
After a 5-2 loss on Friday in Game 1 of their best-of-five first-round NAHL playoff series, the defending Robertson Cup champions picked up a vital 2-1 win on Saturday — wresting home ice advantage away from the Janesville Jets in the process.
“It’s better than being down 0-2,” Wilderness coach Corey Millen said in perhaps the understatement of the season.
After a reasonable start to Friday’s game, the Wilderness found themselves down 2-0 after the Jets scored on their first shot of the game at the 3:46 mark and made it 2-0 just over three minutes later.
“Our first five shifts were good,” Millen said. “They put us in a tough spot. We never got our legs under us, and we didn’t show much energy until the third period.”
In fact, the Wilderness trailed 4-0 after two periods and managed only 13 shots on goal in that time, before outshooting the Jets 16-4 in the third period, scoring twice — and setting the tone for Saturday.
“The third period helped mentally,” Millen said. “Our boys played better in the third period, created some chances and things went better.”
Tristan Rostagno and Casey Gilling scored third-period goals for the Wilderness, who outshot the Jets 29-27 for the game despite losing 5-2. Chase Munroe started in goal and was pulled after the fourth Janesville goal, allowing four goals on 21 shots. Luke Kania finished, and played the next night.
After 16 shots in the third period on Friday, the Wilderness managed only 19 shots in the entirety of Game 2 — and that was still one more than the Jets in a close-checking 2-1 win.
Janis Jaks opened the scoring midway through the first period for the Wilderness. After Dawson DiPietro tied the game for the Jets midway through the second, Casey Gilling’s goal at 14:54 of the second period closed out the scoring. Kania stopped 17 of 18 shots in the Wilderness goal and the series headed to Cloquet tied at a game apiece.
“The third period on Friday gave us a chance to start over and win the next game,” Millen said. “We didn’t give up a lot on Saturday — neither team did — but it was an intense and fast game all the way around. I think we deserved to win. It was a real tight game and we got one more than they did.”
Since they got that one more goal, Janesville must win in Cloquet if they want to win the series.
“Getting a split puts things in control a bit more,” Millen said. “Obviously, we have more control over our own destiny.”
Millen said it was helpful for his younger players to taste a playoff victory.
“I think there was a little bit of a wide-eyed look at times on Friday,” Millen said. “The intensity was up but about half our guys had never played a playoff game in this league. There was a bit of a learning curve there on Friday but on Saturday we were ready for what was coming.”
And getting back home will help.
“It’s a tight matchup,” Millen said. “If we execute and play well and play hard, we can win here but it’s going to take a full effort. We have to be really good. We can’t have an average effort.”