Saturday, March 3, 2007

Cats force Game 3

Northern Michigan senior forward Dusty Collins snapped a 26-year-losing skid for the Wildcats in Columbus and extended the Cats' season for at least one more day Saturday night in a 3-2 overtime victory over the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Collins notched the game-winner at the OSU Ice Rink 3:15 into the extra period. Senior forward Darin Olver gave the Wildcats a 2-0 lead in the first period, posting two scores in a span of 1:29.

Olver's lead would not stand, however. The Buckeyes chipped away at the Wildcats' lead by scoring at the 9:44 mark of the first period and again at 7:02 of the second period.

NMU freshman goaltender Brian Stewart, who relieved senior Bill Zaniboni on Friday, started for NMU and picked up the win Saturday. Stewart stopped 42 of the 44 shots he faced to pick up his first career playoff win.

OSU netminder Joseph Palmer faced more of a challenge on Saturday, having to stop 31 shots in the loss.

The Buckeyes and Wildcats will play a decisive Game 3 tomorrow at 7:35 p.m.

Two big questions going into that match for NMU will be whether or not Stewart receives the start in net tomorrow night. Zaniboni has been pulled two weekends in a row and while he has been solid in net this season, he has not been great. Great goaltending, not just solid goaltending, is what can carry a team far in the playoffs.

In 2003-04, the Wildcats rode an inexperienced Tuomas Tarkki to the CCHA semifinals and NMU head coach Walt Kyle may be looking for the same type of magic to happen again this year.

In the pregame, Kyle said that none of the goals allowed by Stewart on Friday were his fault, while Zaniboni did let in a bad goal. With the Wildcats winning Saturday with Stewart in net, look for the freshman to return for Sunday.

Stewart is not just playing right now to keep the Cats season alive, he is auditioning to be the starter next season.

Besides Stewart possibly having something to prove, Olver came through in the clutch Saturday night. After being booed in the pregame, according to NMU radio play-by-play man John Focke, Olver silenced the OSU crowd with his two quick scores.

Olver had been tossed from Friday's game for kneeing but the officials allowed him back into the game after realizing you can not hand out a five-minute major and a 10-minute misconduct.

The Wildcats will need Olver to come back with the same fire on Sunday, and it would help if the Buckeye fans offered him the incentive again. Boo away OSU.

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