Minnesota State came into today's North Star Cup semifinal having killed off 41 consecutive penalties. But in that streak, they had not seen a power play like St. Cloud State's power play. The Huskies put on a clinic, capitalizing on three of four man advantages, including a decisive tally with 3:19 left to break a 4-4 tie and lead the Huskies to a 5-4 victory and a place in tomorrow's championship game.
The Mavericks got off to a fast start, scoring early after being shutout out by St. Cloud State twice earlier this season, when Zach Stepan's rebound trickled home on the power play 4:52 into the game. But the Huskies answered back when Patrick Russell tied the game, while drawing a penalty, and then scoring on the ensuing power play.
From there, Minnesota State was playing catch-up all night. Dylan Margonari tied the game late in the first period, but St. Cloud State's potent offense scored twice in the second period to build a 4-2 lead. The Mavericks battled back to tie the game midway through the third period thanks to a CJ Franklin rebound goal.
But with the score tied, the Huskies reasserted their advantage over the Mavericks, controlling play in the MSU defensive zone for a four-minute stretch which eventually led to a power play opportunity. On that man advantage, Blake Winiecki found a wide open Jimmy Murray at the side of the net for the game-winning goal.
The Huskies advance to tomorrow's championship game against the winner of tonight's second game between Minnesota and Bemidji State at 4pm. Minnesota State will face the loser of the second game at 1pm tomorrow in the consolation game.
Notes and Thoughts:
-What can I say about the St. Cloud State power play that I didn't already say last week? The confidence and skill that they have in moving the puck is outstanding. They had four chances--technically three-and-a-half since one was truncated by an SCSU penalty--and scored three clean skill goals. With the score tied late, it almost felt like the game was already over when Minnesota State went down a man with about four minutes remaining.
I mentioned this last week, but as good as SCSU's top unit is with Benik, Kossila, Russell, Prow, and Morley, it's their second unit--who had tonight's game-winner-- that makes them elite. Most teams--Minnesota State was in this category tonight-- can pressure with their top unit, but don't have much when that group goes off the ice. The Huskies can threaten for a full two-minutes every time they go up a man and that makes a huge difference.
-Minnesota State won three of four games at the X last season, bringing their all-time record in this building to 3 wins and I'm guessing about 59 losses. Like many of those previous losses, this one had the familiar feel of Minnesota State just being unable to keep the puck out of their own net. Jason Pawloski allowed three goals on ten shots before being replaced by Cole Huggins who allowed two on 12 shots for a total of five goals on 22 shots. Much of that gets chalked up to bad defense in front of them and St. Cloud State's power play, but it's tough to win with numbers like that.
-Minnesota State had been struggling on the power play through the middle of the season, but seems to have found something setting up CJ Franklin on the right half boards and letting him move the puck. Franklin does an exceptional job of finding lanes to move the puck across the ice, something Minnesota State had really been struggling to do with the man advantage.
On Minnesota State's first goal, he made a great pass across the ice to Casey Nelson at the left point. Nelson got a clear shooting lane, and Zach Stepan was able to knock in the resulting rebound for the goal. Franklin made a similar play on the next man advantage, this time going straight across the ice to Zeb Knutson, which opened up the defense and almost led to a cross-ice tap-in goal.
-MSU mostly controlled possession for much of this game, and unlike their previous series with the Huskies, actually got a few bounces. Three of their four goals came off rebounds or deflections. But the difference in scoring ability really showed, as St. Cloud State was able to be much more efficient with their opportunities. Charlie Lindgren, despite finishing with ugly numbers, also came up with some key saves that ended up making a difference.
-That difference really showed in the bottom lines. If I was just judging run of play, the edge goes to Minnesota State's third and fourth lines, who definitely had a possession advantage over St. Cloud State's bottom six. But at the end of the night, it was the Husky bottom lines that had a positive +/- and the Mavericks bottom lines were a minus because the Huskies had the skill to take advantage of the opportunities that they got.
-There are multiple reasons why Minnesota State's offense this year has failed to match up to last year's prolific offense. One that is frequently overlooked is the struggles of senior Dylan Margonari, who had 14 goals last season and scored just his second goal of the year tonight. Margonari started the year hurt and after missing so many games to start the season, had a tough time getting back into form once he got into the line-up.
But his goal tonight showed why he can be such a dangerous player. Margonari has an elite burst of speed and when he can catch the puck in stride at the opposing blue line has the ability to separate from the defense. That's what he did on his goal. If he's fully healthy and can start taking advantage of his speed like that, that could be a big boost to the MSU offense late in the season.
Shots on Goal: MSU: 16-10-7-33 SCSU: 6-8-8-22
Even strength shot attempts: MSU: 16-15-11-42 SCSU: 6-12-15-33
Prime scoring area attempts: MSU: 11-6-5-22 SCSU: 6-3-7-15
What do the numbers tell us?
Minnesota State had the advantage in 5-on-5 possession, but St. Cloud State was extremely efficient when they got opportunities, and finishing +2 on special teams was enough to erase any advantage Minnesota State might have had at even strength.
4:52 Zach Stepan from Zeb Knutson and Casey Nelson (power play) 1-0 Minnesota State
Nelson took a low wrist shot from the left point that Lindgren stopped. Off a scramble in front of the net, Stepan was able to get just enough of the puck to trickle it over the goal line.
8:43 Patrick Russell from Mikey Eyssimont 1-1 tie
Patrick Russell picked up the puck at the MSU blue line and raced down the right wing, beating an MSU defender and cutting in towards the net to beat Pawloski five hole. Russell also drew a slashing penalty on the play.
9:55 Mikey Eyssimont from Patrick Russell and Joey Benik (power play) 2-1 St. Cloud State
Russell took a pass Benik at the left side of the crease and made a beautiful spinning backhand pass across the crease to Eyssimont, who had the whole net to shoot at.
19:32 Dylan Margonari from Max Coatta and Casey Nelson 2-2 tie
Coatta hit Margonari in stride with a pass at the St. Cloud State blue line and Margonari skated in a semi-breakaway and beat Lindgren with a high wrist shot.
9:15 Mikey Eyssimont from Joey Benik and Kalle Kossila (power play) 3-2 St. Cloud State
Benik brought the puck deep into the zone down the left wing on the rush and dropped a pass
10:07 Jacob Benson from Blake Winiecki 4-2 St. Cloud State
Winiecki grabbed the puck off a turnover on the left wing and fed a cross ice pass to Benson whose wrist shot beat Cole Huggins for the goal.
15:19 Brad McClure from Jon Jutzi and CJ Franklin 4-3 St. Cloud State
Jutzi took a waist-high wrist shot from the point that was deflected by McClure into the net.
9:48 CJ Franklin from Brad McClure and Zach Stepan 4-4 tie
McClure took the puck into the zone on a 2-on-1. He took a low shot from a shallow angle that Lindgren stopped, but the rebound kicked out to Franklin who converted on the rebound to tie the game.
16:41 Jimmy Murray from Blake Winiecki and David Morley (power play) 5-4 St. Cloud State
In a near-carbon copy of St. Cloud State's second goal, Winiecki spun and made a pass across the crease to Murray on the backdoor for the game-winning goal.