It took a while to get there, but eventually Minnesota State was able to pull away from Northern Michigan to earn a 3-0 victory to sweep the two-game series, and win their fifth consecutive WCHA conference game.
Despite holding a 29-13 shots on goal advantage through two periods, the Mavericks and Wildcats were scoreless heading into the final frame. But the Mavericks were able to take advantage of a power play midway through the third period when Zach Lehrke scored a rebound goal that would be the game-winner. Jordan Nelson would add an insurance goal just over a minute later, and a Matt Leitner empty-netter would seal the deal.
Final shots on goal for the game were 49-17 in favor of the Mavericks, including a 20-4 advantage in the final frame. Cole Huggins earned his second career shutout, making 17 saves, while Northern Michigan's Mathias Dahlstrom was the hard-luck loser, making 46 stops in the losing effort.
The Mavericks move to 9-7-0 on the season, 7-3-0 in the WCHA, while Northern Michigan drops to 6-8-2 overall, and 4-5-1 in the WCHA.
11:16 Zach Lehrke from JP LaFontaine and Zach Palmquist (power play) 1-0 Minnesota State
Northern Michigan's Dahlstrom made the first two stops after a series of extended pressure by MSU, but Lehrke found the third rebound at the left of the net, and made the steep angle shot to score the first goal.
12:57 Jordan Nelson from Max Gaede and Sean Flanagan 2-0 Minnesota State
Nelson skated the puck into the slot and was knocked down, but while on his backside, he swung at the puck and knocked it through the legs of Dahlstrom.
19:19 Matt Leitner from Sean Flanagan (empty net)(power play) 3-0 Minnesota State
Leitner shot the puck from just inside the blue line into the open net to seal the game.
-Minnesota State is a pretty hot team right now, having won their last five WCHA games. They were a very loose, relaxed bunch before the game, and that showed on the ice. A great performance from Mathias Dahlstrom hid how well Minnesota State controlled the game. The Mavericks are starting to look like the team that everyone expected them to be before the season. They're now in second place in the WCHA, and it might be time to circle that mid-January match-up with Ferris State on the calendar.
- Minnesota State had a goal disallowed in the first period. Johnny McInnis fired a hard shot that hit Dahlstrom high. Zach Stepan crashed the net and was tied up by an NMU defender and they slid into the net, while Dylan Margonari put the rebound into an open net. It looked like a good goal, especially considering the new rule change that the net is allowed to move, as long as it doesn't interfere with the play. But it was waved off. I didn't get to see a replay, so maybe the net was knocked too far off the mooring before the puck went in.
- Corsi numbers for the game pretty much reflect the wide margin in shots on goal as well. MSU held a 65-39 even strength shot attempt advantage for a 62.5% to 27.5% edge. Anything over 60% is a pretty big number.
The by-period numbers really reflect the flow of the game too. MSU led 20-9 in a first period that they were in complete control for much of the period. The second period was very even, and MSU's edge was 20-18. And then in the third period, MSU controlled play with a 25-12 advantage.
-There obviously wasn't much offense from Northern Michigan tonight. Of their 16 shots, a lot of them were shots from the wing trying to generate a rebound, and Minnesota State did an excellent job of tying up the man driving to the net.
Injuries have really killed Northern Michigan in that department. Their top line, especially Reed Seckel and Stephan Vigier were dangerous all night, and had a couple quality opportunities to score the first goal and maybe steal some points. But they really miss senior forward Erik Higby, and the offense CJ Ludwig provides from the blue line.
-This was a great battle between the WCHA's two best freshman goalies, and some might even say two of the best goalies in the league. I was incredibly impressed with Northern Michigan redshirt freshman goalie Mathias Dahlstrom. He was technically very sound and economical in his movement, which allowed him to stay in position and make a couple absolutely brilliant saves on rebound opportunities by Minnesota State. He held off a pretty steady tide for 50 minutes and gave an over-matched an opportunity to get some points on the road.
Dahlstrom's counterpart tonight, Cole Huggins was very good when he needed to be too. He didn't have to make many saves, but had to make a couple difficult ones. Huggins plays with a really calm demeanor, and is just very, very steady.
-Zach Lehrke continues to make his argument as the most valuable players in college hockey. The Mavericks are 5-1-0 since he came back, and Lehrke has 8 points, including the huge game-winner tonight. The reason for the Mavericks turnaround is probably more complex than that, but Lehrke adds a lot of grit to the MSU line-up, and really helps out on the power play, which were two things MSU was missing to start the season.
-I'd argue that even more important than Lehrke coming back is that Matt Leitner is playing much, much better for Minnesota State. Minnesota State usually plays their top three lines pretty evenly, but Leitner's line was the most dangerous all night, and ended up being the one to grab the extra ice time. The Grant-Leitner-Gervais line combined for 15 shots on goal, and Leitner almost recreated his dazzling split-the-defense goal from last night.
-The game was going along pretty smoothly until 14:41 of the third period. Minnesota State took a shot on net that Dahlstrom covered. A couple Mavericks went hard to the net and one knocked down a Northern Michigan defender, leading to some hugging and jawing from both sides. It took the officiating crew of Brad Shepherd and Chris Perreault 11 minutes to sort everything out and get the puck dropped again. The resulting chaos from the penalties they called, caused some confusion on when NMU players should come out of the penalty box, and NMU was whistled for a too many men on the ice penalty. After another lengthy discussion, they didn't call the penalty on NMU, but did hand out a ten-minute misconduct to Reed Seckel, who was sitting in the penalty box, and in the unfortunate position of being the one person whose grumbling about the long delays could be heard.
That last 5:19 took just under 26 minutes to play, pushing the time of game to two hours and forty minutes, which was the longest game of the season for both teams.