Bowling Green didn’t play well Thursday night and didn’t have a good start in the series finale 24 hours later.
But Lukas Craggs’ goal late in the first period finally sparked the Falcons.
The Falcons then built on their momentum and played well the rest of the way for a 4-2 win Friday over 17th-ranked and Western Collegiate Hockey Association leader Bemidji State in the Slater Family Ice Arena.
Craggs’ goal brought the Falcons within 2-1 with just 51 seconds to play in the first period. The Falcons then went ahead for good in the second period on goals from Brett D’Andrea at 5:05 and Mark Friedman on the power play at 9:16. Mitch McLain’s empty-net goal with 15 seconds to play clinched the win.
Bemidji played well during the first period, but BG controlled much of the final 40 minutes. The Falcons held a 25-19 edge in shots on goal.
“After not so good of a period, to get that goal is big,” said D’Andrea, who also had an assist. “It lets us stay in the game more than we were and gives us more energy than we had.”
But Falcon coach Chris Bergeron said the turnaround in the game began even before Craggs’ goal. The turning point, he explained, came when the Falcon bench remained positive, even after Bemidji scored its second goal with 4:30 to go in the period.
The Beavers built their lead with the help of Falcon mistakes.
“At 2-0, it didn’t look like it was going to be our night,” Bergeron said. “The bench was alive. It wasn’t woe is me. It wasn’t woe is us. It was almost to a man. We’re going to stay with it. We’re going to keep going. You don’t get that goal if guys are defeated. It ended up being a huge goal, but that started as soon as they scored that second goal. Our guys didn’t quit.”
“We weren’t playing that well, but the bench was up,” D’Andrea said. “Everyone was staying positive and not getting down on each other. We were supporting each other and had each other’s backs. That’s what led to us playing better later in the game.”
BIG PICTURE: The win was the third in the last four games for the Falcons, 11-12-2 overall and 9-8-1-1 in the league. Bemidji is 15-8-3, 15-3-2-2.
The Falcons, third in the WCHA, have 29 points in the league and are seven behind second-place Michigan Tech. Bemidji leads the league with 49.
Minnesota State could move into a tie with BG Saturday by completing a sweep at Alabama-Huntsville. The Mavericks, ranked 19th nationally, posted a 3-0 win in the series opener.
The Falcons dropped a 2-1 decision Thursday and played well only in the third period. Bemidji scored once in each of the first two periods before BG tallied its goal with just 3:54 remaining and was outshot 23-16 during the first two periods.
“It was important to get a split,” Bergeron said. “I would have liked to have seen two solid efforts versus a good effort and a good period (Thursday). It was important to get a win after the way we played last night. It was important to get a win in a big-time series.”
The Falcons are at Minnesota State next weekend. The Mavericks have played three fewer games than BG in the league. Tech also has two games in hand on BG.
“I hope this game can act as a little bit of a push-start for the second half,” Bergeron said. “Hopefully, that feeling of winning is something the guys are going to decide we want that more than not.
“If we play our game, we know good things are going to come,” D’Andrea said.
QUALITY WIN: The Falcons beat a team that currently has a winning record for the first time this season. They were 0-8-1 in those games, including an 0-3 record against Bemidji and an 0-2 record against Michigan Tech.
OVERALL: The Falcons played well during the second and third periods, thanks to their puck-possession in the offensive zone — something they did infrequently Friday.
Bemidji is the best defensive team in the country, allowing just 1.69 goals per game.
“We got to our game,” D’Andrea said.
“We were much more intense than last night,” Bergeron said. “I really liked the way we finished the second half of that game.”
The Falcons also did a better job of creating traffic in front of Bemidji junior goalie Michael Bitzer, who ranks second nationally with a 1.51 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage.
Friedman’s rocket from the right point came with McLain screening Bitzer and a partial screen helped D’Andrea’s laser from the right circle.
“We did a better job of that. We wanted to last night, but we didn’t execute that,” D’Andrea said.
Frederic Letourneau, who was strong on his stick to knock the puck away from a Bemidji player, created D’Andrea’s goal. The puck went right to D’Andrea, who scored from the left circle.
STRONG FINISH: The Falcons protected their 3-2 lead with a dominant third period when they fashioned an 11-2 edge in shots on goal.
“The third period was, maybe, was our best of the weekend,” Bergeron said. “There were times we really did a nice job in their zone. It was important for us to not play the third like we were hanging on.
Four times during the first half of the season, the Falcons failed to win when they led or were tied in the third period. They were 0-2-2 in those games.
REPEAT PERFORMANCE: BG’s Ryan Bednard played well in goal during the final two periods.
The freshman made 17 saves, 10 coming in the second period. He stopped a breakaway with the scored tied 2-2 with about 12:30 left in the second period. He then made two point-blank stops second apart less three minutes after Friedman had given BG the lead. Six of his saves came against the Bemidji power play.
“He played really well, made some big saves. That jump-starts the bench, too,” D’Andrea said.
Bednard and Chris Nell, who was outstanding Thursday with 25 saves, have split BG’s last five two-game series.
Bednard has a 4-1 record in his last five games, posting a 1.74 goals-against and a .917 save percentage.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The BG power play scored for the second straight game against Bemidji, which ranks second nationally in penalty-killing at 90.3 percent. BG was 1 of 7 in the game.
The Falcons’ power-play goal Friday ended Bemidji’s streak of 34 straight penalty-kills without allowing a goal.
The Bemidji power play was 1 of 4, scoring on its first attempt.
The physical and intense game saw 17 penalties for 53 minutes.
THE VIEW FROM BEMIDJI: The Beavers played well in the first period, but eventually ran out of gas.
“We had a great first period,” Bemidji coach Tom Serratore said. “We did everything we had to do to get a two-goal cushion, and then we give up a goal in the last minute of the (first) period. That turned the tide. They kept their foot on the gas pedal after that. We were in the driver’s seat for a while, but (BG) took it away from us.”
Bemidji played the BG series without three regulars because of injuries — forwards Brendan Harms and Gerry Fitzgerald, and defenseman Dillon Eichstadt. Harms and Fitzgerald are two of the team’s best forwards.
LINEUP: BG made major lineup changes for Saturday’s game.
Forwards Jakob Reichert, Joe McKeown and Casey Linkenheld were inserted into the lineup. They replaced forwards Shane Bednard and John Schilling, and defenseman Adam Smith. Reichert played just the seventh time this season, but the first since Nov. 4.
“I wanted a better effort collectively,” Bergeron said. “I’m a guy of opportunity. Why not Linkenheld, Reichert, McKeown? Those guys have worked hard in practice. Just trying to give guys opportunities and hold other guys accountable.”
Also, forward Pierre-Luc Mercier was demoted to the fourth line. The senior had just two assists in his last 10 games before Saturday, although he has 20 goals and 45 assists in 142 games.
“A guy like ‘Merce’ has got a bunch of equity built up over his time here,” Bergeron said. “To take him out of the lineup would have been a lot extreme. I wanted him to be able to answer and play harder which he did.”
STREAKS: McLain’s empty-net score gave him a goal in four straight games and a point in five straight contests. The junior forward leads the league with 14 goals and is second with 24 points.
The Falcons’ Stephen Baylis has a point in five straight games, totaling five assists in that span. The sophomore forward also has a point in seven of the last nine games, totaling one goal and six assists.
FINALLY: BG snapped a three-game losing streak in the Slater Family Ice Arena where it is 3-5-2 this season.