Bowling Green’s 3-2 overtime win against Northern Michigan was far from easy Friday night.
The Falcons played well at times and not so well at others, but they finally won on Tyler Spezia’s goal 19:32 into overtime at the Ice Arena.
The 13th-ranked Falcons, who improved to 22-10-5 overall, can close out the best of 3 series in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association quarterfinals with another win tonight.
But a victory by NMU (14-17-6) forces Game 3 Sunday night.
Faceoff both nights is 7:07.
The Falcons held a 52-40 edge in shots in a game that was fast-paced, physical, fun to watch and loaded with quality chances for both teams.
“We’re happy to win,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “You don’t want to forget about the process because the process matters. But you’re looking for results. Our process wasn’t great.
“I just didn’t think we were sharp enough with the puck. It’s hard for us to understand that because of how much we talk about our play with the puck. But we found a way.”
The Falcons needed Mark Cooper’s goal with just 1:24 remaining in regulation to force overtime.
Cooper’s centering pass from deep in the left-wing circle deflected in off the right skate of NMU defenseman Brock Maschmeyer, who was in front of the net, facing Cooper. The goal came only 2:07 after NMU took a 2-1 lead.
The Falcons improved to 13-6 in goal games this season. They won for just the second time when trailing after two periods. They’re 2-6-1 in those games.
“There was times where we were skating uphill and they were chasing us,” Bergeron said. “I just don’t think it was 50-50. It was maybe 65-35 in their favor, maybe 60-40. Ultimately, we found a way to win. At this time of year, that’s what you have to do.
“We were really struggling finding our game and committing to it and investing in it.”
GAME-WINNER: Spezia scored his game-winning goal from the right side of the crease, roofing the puck over NMU goalie Michael Doan.
The freshman left wing and linemates Adam Berkle and Dan DeSalvo came on the ice with about 45 seconds left in regulation.
Doan stopped Berkle’s shot from the top of the circles, but the rebound fell to the right side of the crease. Doan made the save on DeSalvo’s rebound shot, but Spezia controlled the puck just below the goal line.
Spezia had the puck on his backhand, took a step backwards, turned to his forehand and scored over the sprawling Doan.
The goal was Spezia’s fifth of the season, but his first since Nov. 1.
“I got the puck and tried making a play to the net,” Spezia said. “The puck was there. Berkle threw one off the pad … and I just happened to get the puck on my backhand, … and I put it under the bar. I don’t know, I blacked out to be honest.”
IT ONLY TAKES ONE: The Falcons’ only lead of the game came on Spezia’s overtime goal.
BG trailed for 25:38 of the game that lasted 79:32.
CLOSE CALL: The Wildcats nearly won the game in the first minute of overtime, but Jake Baker’s rocket from the left point hit the right post. The shot came after a BG turnover in the defensive zone.
“Northern hadn’t really been too aggressive in terms of their defensemen and the blue lines in their offensive zone,” BG goalie Tommy Burke said. “Then, early in the overtime, they pushed. Their (defensemen) were close up on the walls and they kept pucks in.
“Baker took a shot from the point,” Burke added. “(NMU’s Reed) Seckel was right in front. I didn’t really see it until maybe it was three feet away from me, and I stuck my elbow out and got a piece of it, and it still hit the pipe. It was a good thing I still got a piece of it otherwise it would have went in.”
GOALTENDING: Burke and Doan both played well in excellent goaltending duel.
Burke finished with 38 saves, including 11 in both the second and third periods, and seven in overtime.
The Wildcats took a 1-0 lead on Shane Sooth’s breakaway goal at 7:17 of the first period and Luke Eibler’s shot from the right-wing boards near the bottom of the circle with 3:31 to go in regulation.
“Tommy Burke played well. His body of work was good,” Bergeron said.
Doan had 18 saves in the first period and added 11 in overtime.
BECOMING A HABIT?: The Falcons are attempting to advance to their league semifinals for the third time in the last four seasons.
BG advanced to the Central Collegiate Hockey Association semifinals in 2012 and the WCHA semifinals last season.
The Falcons are the only team in the country to win a best of 3 series in each of the last three seasons. They’ve won four series the last three seasons, including a quarterfinal sweep of Michigan Tech in the Ice Arena last season.
OT: The Falcons’ win Friday ended their streak of 13 overtime games without win, dating back to last season.
They were 0-2-5 in overtime this season and 0-5-8 in overtime during the streak.
BG’s last overtime win came Nov. 22, 2013 in a 4-3 win over Minnesota State at the Ice Arena.
RETURN: BG sophomore left wing Kevin Dufour played Friday after sitting out last weekend’s series against Alabama-Huntsville as a healthy scratch.
Dufour is second on the team in goals (13) and sixth with 19 points.
STREAKING: The Falcons have won three straight games, while NMU has four straight and eight of its last 11.
NMU hasn’t won a playoff series since 2010, including first-round losses at home to BG in 2011 and 2012.
DeSalvo has a point in three straight games, totaling a goal and three assists.
Cooper has a goal in three of the last six games, totaling four goals and two assists in that span.
BUSY: Freshman forward Brandon Hawkins had 10 of BG’s 52 shots. Defenseman Nolan Valleau was next with six.
REVERSAL: The Wildcats posted a 3-2 (overtime), 4-3 sweep of BG in the Ice Arena Feb. 20-21. BG held a one-goal lead in the third period of both games, but couldn’t hold on.
The Falcons played well for most of that series, even though they were swept.
PP: The Falcon power play was 0 of 5, including a 5 on 3 of a minute in the third period with NMU holding a 1-0 lead.
NMU was 0 of 3.
BG leads the nation in penalty-killing at 89.6 percent.
PAIRWISE: The Falcons remained in decent shape to earn an at-large berth in the NCAA playoffs, if they don’t win the WCHA playoffs.
BG is tied for 11th in the Pairwise Rankings, which mimic the NCAA criteria.
Sixteen teams make the NCAAs — the six league playoff champions and 10 at-large berths. The top 16 teams in the Pairwise aren’t guaranteed to advance to the NCAAs because some teams not in the top 16 may win playoff championships.
GAME 2. The Falcons are looking for more consistent play Saturday, especially fewer turnovers and more sustained pressure offensively.
“We put ourselves in a good position for tomorrow,” BG senior defenseman Connor Kucera said. “We have to play better tomorrow and finish the job. We don’t want to play Sunday.
“We stuck to our game plan,” Spezia said. “We weren’t relentless the whole night, but at the end of the game, we always find a way and that’s what we did tonight … we found a way.
“Neither of these teams are promised Monday,” Spezia added. “With that being said, we still have to come tomorrow and do the same thing all over again.”