Bowling Green’s season was saved by its suddenly red-hot power play.
The Falcons scored four power-play goals Saturday en route to a 7-2 win over Bemidji State to force a deciding game in their Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoff series.
They survived Bemidji’s early pressure to force Game 3 Sunday night at 7:07 in the Ice Arena.
The Beavers had the game’s first seven shots and didn’t allow BG a shot until 12:08 was left in the first period, but BG scored the game’s first two goals — both on the power play. Sean Walker scored from the deep slot at 11:08 and Brandon Hawkins scored from the left point 25 seconds later.
The Beavers closed within one goal twice, and had a chance to tie the game 3-3 on the power play late in the second period and early in the third period but BG held on. BG scored the game’s final three goals in a span of 181 seconds late in the third period, starting with Mark Cooper’s goal at 14:23.
“We had good (offensive) zone time,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said of the power play. “There were some pretty good plays made by individuals and pucks ended up going in the net. There was no special secret, no major changes. Our guys did a nice job of taking what the game gave them. Then, when there was a play to be made, we made it.”
The Falcon power play scored three times on point shots and once on a play down low. Mark Friedman had the other goal from the point and Kevin Dufour scored from the right side of the net. The four power-play goals all were the result of good plays and a good net presence.
Bemidji’s penalty-killing entered the game at 88.2 percent, fourth-best in the country, but fell to fifth at 86.6 after BG went 4 of 6. The Falcon power play is 9 of 36 in the last seven games, 8 of 23 in the last four games and 5 of 11 in the series.
After struggling most of the season, the BG power play is third in the league at 17.9 percent.
“Just moving the puck around well and getting pucks to the net. We put a lot of (pucks on) net, and we had guys prepared to score,” Walker said of the power play. “We were a little more desperate. Tomorrow’s not guaranteed any more. We’ve got to go out there and do everything properly.”
SLOW START: The Falcons took their 2-0 lead after Bemidji dominated the start of the game 5 on 5.
Bemidji was bidding for a sweep of the series after it played well and outworked the Falcons in a 3-1 win Friday.
“Getting those two goals right away was huge. That’s big momentum for us,” Walker said.
“The start of the game, they came at us really hard,” Bergeron said. “You’d almost think it should be the opposite and us pushing really hard, but that’s not the case. We took a few punches early and got a power-play opportunity and took advantage of the power play, so we’ll take it.”
The Beavers continued to hold the edge 5 on 5 through most of the game and finished with a 39-25 edge in shots on goal. In non-power-play shots on goal, Bemidji held a 30-15 margin in non power-play shots.
“At this time of year, you have to win to play tomorrow. I feel good about (winning),” Bergeron said.
REBOUND: The Falcons didn’t play well Friday and didn’t compete, either, leading Bergeron to call the performance “embarrassing.” After Friday’s game, Bergeron said he hoped most of the pre-game message Saturday would come from the players, not him.
“As usual, I had too much to say,” Bergeron said. “I don’t know if I gave them enough time to police themselves or talk about it amongst themselves.
“We are a collective group, and collectively we talked about last night and how we want to play better tonight,” Bergeron added. “We played better at times tonight. I still think we have another level of play, but Bemidji State is really good. They’ve been a tough matchup for us to this point, 5 on 5 in particular.”
The Falcons have been inconsistent during the second half of the season.
“We know we can play at this level,” said BG goalie Chris Nell, who played well with 37 saves. “We know we’re a good team. We took last night and threw it in the wind. Now, it’s win or go home. As a team, we realized if we don’t show up to play, the season is going to be over.
“We weren’t executing,” Nell added. “That’s been on repeat for the last couple weeks. Just play the systems, buy into a team game, don’t try to do it all yourself, knowing no one out there has to do it themselves. Just come together as a team and just play together.”
Nell had 12 saves in the first period, 11 in the second and 14 in the second. His play helped BG kill off six of Bemidji’s seven power plays. The sophomore stopped 21 of 24 shots Friday.
“Game to game, my approach, if I’m right mentally, my approach shouldn’t change at all from period to period, shift to shift,” Nell said. “I just take it one game at a time, one shot at a time.”
Nell is ninth nationally with a 1.91 goals-against average and 11th with a .929 save percentage. Going into the game, Nell was 3-0 with 0.67 goals-against average and a .974 save percentage on Saturday after a Friday loss.
INJURY: BG’s John Schilling left the game early in the second period after hitting the boards with the back of his head and his back. The sophomore right wing was involved in incidental contact with a Bemidji player, lost his balance and fell backwards awkwardly into the boards.
He remained on the ice face down for several minutes before skating off the ice with the help of two teammates. Schilling was taken to Wood County Hospital for precautionary reasons, Bergeron said.
“I don’t think it’s anything serious,” Bergeron said. “I can’t imagine he’s going to be ready to play (Sunday). We just want to be make sure he’s OK. The indications right now are he’s OK.”
PERFECT: The Falcons are 7-0 in Game 3s, including a 4-0 record under Bergeron.
They won at Northern Michigan in double overtime in 2011 and in 2012, Ferris State in overtime in 2012, and Lake Superior in 2013.
The two series victories against NMU and Lake Superior also came after BG lost Game 1.
OFFENSE: BG’s seven goals were a season-high, beating the previous high of six.
Eleven Falcons had at least one point in the game, including six different goal-scorers.
Friedman had two goals and one assist, while Dufour and Cooper each had one goal and one assist.
Dufour, a junior left wing, had an assist Friday, the first playoff point of his career.
STILL HOT: BG sophomore left wing Stephen Baylis had three assists to extend his point streak to seven games. No other current Falcon has ever had a streak that long. He has 22 points this season, and 14 of those have come in the last seven games.
Baylis has nine goals and 13 assists in 33 games.
CHANGES: The Falcons made three lineup changes for Game 2.
Sophomore Jakob Reichert and freshman Bednard went in at forward for sophomore Brett D’Andrea and freshman Joe McKeown. Freshman Jordan Ernst replaced senior Jose Delgadillo on defense.
Reichert played for just the 17th time this season and the first since Jan. 9 at Lake Superior. Bednard had been a healthy scratch for the last five games, but had played in 26 games.