A span of two minutes midway through the third period made all the difference in the world for the Fairbanks Ice Dogs on Friday night.
After a scoreless first two periods, the Ice Dogs trailed the Janesville Jets 1-0 when Brandon Murphy and Tim Erkkila scored goals two minutes and 10 seconds apart to give Fairbanks a 2-1 victory in a North American Hockey League game at the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
“Janesville played a much stronger game tonight and we didn’t bury the pucks like we did on Friday night,” Ice Dogs assistant coach Scott Duer said. “When we got our first goal, I think everyone on the team got excited and we played much better the remainder of the game.”
Friday’s victory was a much more even game than Thursday’s series-opening 9-2 rout of the Jets, of Janesville, Wisconsin.
The two teams conclude their three-game series at 7:30 tonight at the Dipper.
“This win actually feels a lot better because of the way we came back,” said Erkkila, who netted the game-winning goal at 11:47 of the third period. “I thought we showed a lot of resilience and stayed focused even though we were down a goal.”
Both teams had good scoring chances in the first two periods, but Ice Dogs goalie Mattias Scholl and Jets netminder Grant Riley were up to the task of keeping the puck out of the net.
The Jets got on the scoreboard first when Luke Wheeler, off assists from Carter Hottmann and Nick Michel, scored on a bang-bang play in front of Sholl at 4:52 of the third period.
Murphy scored his third goal of the season when he gathered the puck on the Gene’s Chrysler logo, whirled and rifled a shot past Riley at 9:37, much to the delight of packed house at the Big Dipper.
That seemed to get the Ice Dogs going and Erkkila netted the game-winner when he knocked home a rebound after Riley had stopped a drive by Luke Ciolli.
“I got a fortunate bounce right on my stick and the net was wide open, so it was easy to put it in,” Erkkila said of the winning goal.
The Jets had a great opportunity to even things up when Ice Dogs Adam Eisele was sent to the penalty box for tripping at the 18:25 mark.
Janesville coach Corey Leiverman pulled Riley for an extra attacker to give the Jets a 6-on-4 advantage for the final 95 seconds of the game, but Sholl and the Ice Dogs weathered the storm to pull out the victory.
Neither team was successful on the power play as the Ice Dogs were 0 for 4 and the Jets went 0 for 3 with a man advantage. Both teams were unsuccessful in 4-on-4 situations as well.
Sholl made 22 saves on the night to improve to 13-7-0-2 on the season, while Riley stopped 28 shots in dropping to 8-9-0-1 on the year.
The victory moved the Ice Dogs to 16-8-0-2 on the season and Fairbanks is now just three points behind the Midwest Division leading Kenai River Brown Bears, who suffered a 6-4 loss to the Minnesota Magicians on Friday night in Soldotna.
Contact the News-Miner sports department at 459-7586.