Anchorage Wolverines center Matt Johnson struck at 13:04 of the overtime period, scoring a goal that gave the Wolverines a 4-3 win over the Springfield Jr. Blues on Sunday.
The win secured a first-round playoff sweep for the first-year North American Hockey League franchise in the Robertson Cup’s opening round.
Defenseman Clay Allen and forward Bohdan Panasenko assisted on the goal, which closed the door on the Jr. Blues, who tied the game with 19 seconds left in regulation.
Setting up the game-winner, Allen skated down the left boards and found Panasenko, who put the puck right on Johnson’s stick for a one-timer just inside the right circle.
Wolverines head coach Mike Aikens said the play was indicative of the team’s style and attitude all season.
“Part of the trademark of this team is character and unselfishness,” Aikens said. “Having that team mentality can go a long way. I don’t know we’re the most skilled or fastest but we have a team that cares for one another.”
Leo Bacallao notched the goal that sent the game to overtime for Springfield, forcing the Wolverines to play into extra time to move on to the NAHL quarterfinals.
“We made it a little harder on ourselves than we needed to,” Aikens said. “We’re sick, we’re tired and we’re banged up but we found a way to get it done.”
After taking the first two games of the series at the Nelson Center in Springfield, Illinois, Anchorage appeared poised to run away with Game 3.
Aiden Westin and Jackson Reineke scored goals in the final few minutes of the first period to give the Wolverines a 2-0 advantage at the first intermission.
But late in the second, the Jr. Blues struck back to tie the game with goals from Connor Smith and Joey Dosan.
“We did want to come out and set the tone,” Aikens said. “We weren’t at our best either in our first period. We were happy to be in the position where we are at but I give Springfield credit, they didn’t quit. They just kept battling.”
Hunter Schmitz pushed the Wolverines back ahead 3-2 at 4:17 of the third period. The Wolverines held that lead until the closing seconds when Bacallao forced OT.
The Wolverines move on to play the winner of the Fairbanks Ice Dogs and the Minnesota Wilderness. Fairbanks leads the series 2-0 after taking two games at home and Minnesota hosts Game 3 on Friday.
“We are looking forward that we earned that break,” Aikens said. “We wanted to do that so we could go home and rest and be ready for the next series.”