by Ken Oda
St. Cloud, MN - The Minotauros started the final 30 days of the regular season with a big first step towards the playoffs sweeping the St. Cloud Blizzard and extending their lead over the Minnesota Wilderness for a playoff spot to five points. The oft sloppy Tauros outscored their defensive mistakes to take four points on the weekend and rewrite the franchise record books in the process.
On Friday night Hunter Bjorge netted his fourth of the season on the Tauros first shot of the game. Jay Buchholz and Kyler Kleven picked up the assists to start big weekends for themselves as well. Ryan O'Neil tied the game in the middle of the first and that 1-1 draw held until the third period. Sam Skinner became the single season point leader among Tauro defenseman just a minute into the third setting up Dan Russell's 19th of the season to give the Tauros a 2-1 lead. Skinner's 27th assist was his 36th point on the season as he passed James LaDouce who had 35 points for the Tauros in the 2015-16 season. Russell's goal started a frenzy of offense as the Tauros and Blizzard combine for nine goals in the third period. Derek Roberts and Jack Suchy scored to give St. Cloud a 3-2 lead only to see Russell get his 20th of the season and tie the game 34 seconds later set up by Kleven and Skinner. Ryan Petersen set up Cole O'Connell on a breakaway less than two minutes after that and it was suddenly 4-3 Tauros. Four seconds after the puck was dropped to restart play Cade Stibbe extended the Tauro lead to 5-3 and it appeared the Tauros finally had some breathing room. But just 16 seconds later Ike Taraszewski stripped the puck from skinner five feet in front of the Tauro net and pulled St. Cloud back within one. A power play goal from Nik Armstrong-Kingkade for his 25th of the season however restored the two goal lead and O'Connell hit the empty net to push the final to 7-4.
On Saturday night the Tauros carried the play in the first period out-shooting the Blizzard 18-5 but Wilhelm Wassberg's third of the season was the only thing the Tauros had to show for it. Stibbe doubled the Tauro lead just 46 seconds into the second and it appeared the Tauros were going to cruise as they often have against St. Cloud this season. But the Blizzard had other plans rattling off three unanswered goals to take the lead. With less than a minute left in the period however Kleven pulled the Tauros even with his 24th of the season from Wassberg and Buchholz. Kleven got his second of the night with 8:59 left in regulation with a shot that trickled through Tyler Bost. Then after two Blizzard were sent to the box at the same time Russell cashed in on the two man advantage to close out the scoring for a 5-3 final.
Next up the Tauros host the Bismarck Bobcats on the Pepsi Rink at Maysa Arena on Wednesday night at 7:05.
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