Bowling Green’s special teams came through again in the team’s most important game of the season Sunday night.
The Falcons scored a power-play goal and killed off a 5-minute penalty en route to a 3-1 victory over Bemidji State in the third and deciding game of their Western Collegiate Hockey Association quarterfinal series in the Ice Arena.
Mark Cooper’s goal with the man advantage provided the Falcons with a 1-0 lead at 12:36 of the second period and Bemidji never tied the game. The Beavers closed within 2-1 with 6:55 remaining in the game, but Matt Pohlkamp’s empty-net goal with 1:55 left clinched BG’s victory.
The Falcons killed Pierre-Luc Mercier’s major and game misconduct penalties for checking from behind, just 1:34 after Cooper scored. They allowed only three shots on goal during the penalty and then killed off Bemidji’s other penalty early in the third period.
“The biggest thing is we didn’t let them get (in the offensive) zone with a lot of control,” said Falcon goalie Chris Nell, who had 35 saves in the game, 30 coming during the final two periods. “We made them earn the zone a lot.
“Once they did get (the puck) in the zone, we had a lot of guys blocking shots. We blocked shots really well. Any shot they had was blocked or was from the outside. Then, we cleared it. We did a really good job of stepping up at the blueline and making them earn the zone.”
The Falcons have killed off 33 of their last 36 short-handed situations during the last nine games, including 9 of 11 in the series. Bemidji entered the game with the league’s second-best power play at 20.1 percent, while BG’s penalty kill was fourth at 85.2 percent.
“That was pretty big,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said of killing the penalty to Mercier. “We did a nice job. There was a purpose to what we were doing. We had a game plan to combat their power play. We executed pretty well.”
“Our (penalty-kill) has been pretty good of late … just believing in our abilities again of late,” said Falcon senior assistant captain Mark Cooper, a member of the penalty-killing unit.
The Falcons received a standing ovation from the crowd of 1,805 when they returned to full strength after the Mercier penalty ended.
“The crowd, that was the loudest they were all night,” said Cooper, a member of the penalty-killing unit. “After that, it was awesome to hear them and get them in the game. After scoring a power-play goal and killing that five-minute penalty, that gave us a little momentum going into the third period.”
The Falcon power play was 6 of 12 in the series to improve to 18.4 percent this season. BG was 4 of 6 in Saturday’s 7-2 win to force Sunday’s Game 3. Bemidji’s penalty-killing entered the game ranked fifth nationally at 86.6 percent.
Cooper’s goal came on BG’s only power-play attempt of the game. Just four penalties were called in the game.
The Falcons have scored a power-play goal in five straight games and in nine of their last 11 games. BG is 9 of 24 with the man-advantage in those five games and 11 of 37 in the 11-game span.
The Falcons, 22-13-6 overall, advanced to the WCHA Final Five for the third straight season.
They’ll face WCHA regular-season co-champion and 16th-ranked Minnesota State (20-12-7) in the semifinals Friday at 4:07 p.m. at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich. BG finished third in the league.
The other semifinal game matches co-champion and No. 13 Michigan Tech (23-8-5) against fourth-place Ferris State (17-14-6) at 7:37 p.m.
The championship game is Saturday night at 6:07, with the winner advancing to the NCAA playoffs.
Bemidji, sixth in the league, finished 17-16-6.