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Junior hockey: Bruins' penalty kill has them on verge of series victory

AUSTIN — The Austin Bruins have no problem playing a man down.It's not the way they prefer it, but they're good at it. The best in the North American Hockey League, to be exact.

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Austin Bruins forward Luke Dietsch redirects a pass from the corner during Saturday's North American Hockey League playoff game against Aberdeen at Riverside Arena in Austin. The Bruins won Game 2 of the best-of-five series to take a 2-0 series lead.

AUSTIN — The Austin Bruins have no problem playing a man down.

It's not the way they prefer it, but they're good at it. The best in the North American Hockey League, to be exact.

The Bruins' 90-percent penalty kill was put to the test Saturday night. It held up, and because of that, Austin is on the verge of advancing to the NAHL Central Division finals for a fourth consecutive season.

Austin held Aberdeen scoreless on three power-play chances en route to a 4-0 victory at Riverside Arena in Game 2 of a best-of-5 Central Division semifinal series. The Bruins take a 2-0 series lead into Friday's Game 3 at Aberdeen.

""We work on (penalty killing) so hard every week," said Bruins goalie Jake Kielly, who recorded a 19-save shutout in his first playoff start. "The guys block so many shots. That's really the key to it all. They lay their bodies out there for me and that's all you can ask for out of them."

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The key stretch for Austin's penalty killers came at the start of the second period. Leading 2-0, the Bruins killed off three penalties in the first 7:26 of the period.

The Bruins were the only team in the NAHL to finish the regular season with a penalty kill of better than 90 percent (90.2) and that has carried over to the playoffs. Aberdeen is just 1-for-9 on the power play through the first two games.

At one point in the second period, Bruins penalty killers Jacob Kullberg, Ian Scheid, Hugo Gallet and Nico Sturm brought the crowd to life by holding the puck in Aberdeen's end for 30 seconds and putting two shots on goal as the Wings scrambled to clear the zone.

"The life, when you create a scoring chance short-handed, the life on the bench is way up, and the energy, the enthusiasm, it's big," Bruins head coach Chris Tok said. "In a 60-minute game, there are lulls and peaks and valleys. It's important to have that enthusiasm."

The Bruins dominated the opening period, taking the lead for good when Luke Dietsch re-directed a point shot by Liam Feeney on a power play 1:38 in. Jacob Kullberg made it 2-0 at 16:50 of the first when a shot hit traffic and bounced directly to his stick in the right circle. Kullberg had an open net to fire it into for a two-goal lead.

"That was big," Tok said of the fast start. "I was actually thinking late in the first, it's a shame it's only going to be 1-0, I think our guys would be a little disappointed. We did things the right way and had one (goal), but it was really good to get that second one and say 'your hard work does get rewarded.' We just have to keep plugging away. That's what these guys have done all season long."

JC Maclean scored just 11 seconds after leaving the penalty box midway through the second period, and Nico Sturm added a goal with 1:01 to go in the third to put an exclamation point on a dominant victory for Austin, which played without injured captains Brian Bachnak and Jake Arroyo.

"About 3-4 weeks ago, once we started to roll, our guys all said 'there are no more rookies. You guys are all tenured, you can all lead the team,'" Kielly said. "Sometimes it's just leading by example, too, that means the most."

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NAHL CENTRAL DIVISION SEMIFINALS

(Game 2)

Bruins 4, Wings 0

Aberdeen#0#0#0#—#0

Austin#2#1#1#—#4

First period— 1. AUS, Luke Dietsch 2 (Tony Uglem 2, Liam Feeney 3) 1:38 (pp). 2. AUS, Jacob Kullberg 1 (Nico Sturm 1) 16:50. Second period— 3. AUS, JC Maclean 1 (Trevor Boyd 3) 7:37.

Third period— 4. AUS, Sturm 3 (unassisted) 18:59.

Shots on goal— ABD 6-5-8—19; AUS 9-9-12—30. Goalies— ABD, Andrew Shortridge (0-1; 30 shots-26 saves); AUS, Jake Kielly (W, 1-0; 19 shots-19 saves). Power plays— ABD, 0-3; AUS, 1-3. Penalties— ABD, 5-10 minutes; AUS, 5-10 minutes.

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P-B's 3 Stars

1. Jake Kielly, Austin: The Bruins goalie recorded a 19-save shutout in his first NAHL playoff start.

2. Nico Sturm, Austin: The forward had a goal and an assist, and played well on the penalty kill.

3. Liam Feeney, Austin: The Bruins defenseman had an assist on the game-winning goal, was strong defensively and on the penalty kill all night.

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Former Austin Bruins goalie Jake Kielly, left, signed an entry-level contract with the Vancouver Canucks organization in early April. Kielly is one of four or five Canucks goalies who will battle for an NHL roster spot in training camp.

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