Trailing league-leading Minnesota State by four points in the conference standings, with only three weekends remaining for each team, Saturday evening was a near must-win for the Falcons if they had any hope of staying in the race for the MacNaughton Cup. The Falcons responded with a 3-1 victory over Minnesota State to pull within two points of the Mavericks heading into the home stretch of the WCHA conference season.
The momentum of Minnesota State's 5-1 win the previous night carried over into the early stages of Saturday's game, with the Mavericks controlling the early stages of the game, but unable to put a puck past Bowling Green goalie Chris Nell. Instead, the Falcons would strike first when Mark Cooper stole a puck from Minnesota State goalie Cole Huggins behind Huggins' net and scored on a wraparound.
The Mavericks would even the score on their only tally of the game when Dylan Margonari tipped home a power play goal. But Cooper had the answer again for the Falcons when his power play goal put the Falcons ahead 2-1 after two periods.
Stephen Baylis added a back-breaking insurance goal late in the third period to secure the victory for the Falcons.
One night after allowing an uncharacteristic five goals on 21 shots, Chris Nell rebounded with a fantastic 32 saves on 33 shots. Cole Huggins stopped 21 of 24 in a losing effort.
Minnesota State remains atop the WCHA leaderboard with 31 league points, but the Falcons and Michigan Tech are tied for second with 29 points each, with each team have six WCHA league games remaining.
Notes and Thoughts:
-It's tough to say a team lost a game before the first media timeout, especially when they don't give up a goal in that span, but Minnesota State failed to score on four Grade-A chances and ended up not getting that many chances of that high a quality the rest of the game. An early goal in front of a big crowd would have been a huge momentum-builder. Instead the Falcons struck first and the Mavericks were playing catch-up the rest of the night.
Chris Nell may not have been at his best on Friday night, but he was great here. Minnesota State got their one goal on a deflection right in front of him, and it became clear that was the only type of goal Minnesota State was going to score tonight. He quietly made some difference-making saves, including stops on Sean Flanagan and Daniel Brickley in the first period, and a beautiful save on Teddy Blueger in the second period on a play remarkably similar to Blueger's game-winning goal last weekend against Minnesota. For whatever reason(mostly because he plays in the WCHA), Nell doesn't get a ton of hype, but he's one of the elite goalies in college hockey and definitely has the potential to play at the next level.
-Cole Huggins had the one big mistake in the first period when he misplayed a puck rimmed around the boards behind his own net, and allowed a goal. I thought he looked confident other than that though, and made a couple saves he probably shouldn't have to make up for the big mistake. That's two strong weekends in a row for Huggins, who may be the guy that Mavericks rely on as they head down the stretch.
-Last night, the Falcons were a little loose in their defensive end. Tonight, they were much better. They played a near flawless third period. They spent most of the third period in their own end and allowed Minnesota State to attempt 34 shots in the period, but none of Minnesota State's shots felt all that dangerous. I only counted five MSU attempts in the prime scoring area in the third period.
Shots on Goal: MSU: 8-10-14-32 BGSU: 11-10-3-24
Even Strength Shot Attempts: MSU: 17-20-34 BGSU: 15-11-6
Prime Scoring Area Opportunities: MSU: 8-7-5 BGSU: 6-6-3
What Do the Numbers Tell US?
A very even game for the first two periods. MSU had the slight edge, but Huggins' misplay of the puck and Nell's stellar play in goal made the difference. In the third period, Bowling Green packed it in. The Mavericks attempted a ton of shots, but generated very little of quality.
18:22 Mark Cooper unassisted 1-0 Bowling Green
Cole Huggins fumbled the puck behind his own net into his skates. Cooper skated in, stole the puck and wrapped it around into a wide open net.
9:17 Dylan Margonari from Sean Flanagan and Jon Jutzi (power play) 1-1 tie
Margonari was standing at the top of the crease and tipped a shot from Sean Flanagan between the legs of Nell for the goal.
14:31 Mark Cooper from Stephen Baylis and Pierre Luc-Mercier (power play) 2-1 Bowling Green
On a scramble in front of the Maverick net, two Maverick defensemen collapsed on a pair of Falcons digging for the puck. Cooper was trailing the play and able to pull the puck out of the crowd and put it into the net.
15:23 Stephen Baylis from Matt Pohlkamp 3-1 Bowling Green
Pohlkamp skated down the right wing on a 2-on-1, faked a shot and made a nice pass to Baylis, who one-timed the puck into the net for the goal.