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Panthers drop close contests to section foes

Losing the final two regular-season games wasn't the way Pete Stahnke wanted the Park Rapids-Menahga boys hockey team to enter the Section 8A playoffs.

The Panthers closed out the regular season with a 3-2 overtime loss at Kittson Central Thursday night and a 4-3 loss at Crookston Friday night. Those two losses left Park Rapids with a 14-8-3 entering Tuesday night's section playoff opener against Walker-Hackensack-Akeley.

The winner of Tuesday night's playoff opener advances to play No. 2 Thief River Falls at Warroad Friday night at 6 p.m.

In the loss to Crookston, the Pirates quickly answered Park Rapids' first two goals then held off a late flurry to close the regular season with a win.

Blake Olson gave the Panthers a quick 1-0 lead at the 3:07 mark of the first period. Brandon Mickelson and Ryan Kent assisted on that goal.

Crookston tied the game 42 seconds later on a goal by Alan Mart. The Pirates held a 13-7 edge in shots in the opening period.

The Panthers regained the lead when Mickelson set up Kent at the 7:31 mark of the second period. But again Crookston quickly retaliated as Zach Mercil scored 35 seconds later. Mercil added another goal at the 15:50 mark as Crookston carried a 3-2 lead into the third period. Park Rapids held a 14-11 edge in shots.

Mart scored his second goal of the game 1:01 into the final period to give Crookston a 4-2 advantage. The Pirates allowed only four shots on goal before Kevin McMorrow scored with 29 seconds to play. Olson assisted on that goal.

Matt Grove preserved the lead, finishing with 23 saves on the night. Brady Yrjo tallied 28 saves for the Panthers.