Bowling Green faces another important Western Collegiate Hockey Association series this weekend.
The Falcons visit 18th-ranked Minnesota State in a battle of teams tied for third place in the WCHA. The teams have 29 points, seven behind second-place Michigan Tech.
BG has 11 regular-season games remaining, including 10 league games. Tech and MSU both have two games in hand on the Falcons in WCHA play.
The Falcons, who were the coaches and media pick to the win the WCHA championship, are 11-12-2 overall and 9-8-1-1 in the league. MSU, third in the both polls, is 13-7-2, 9-5-2-0.
“They’re all important,” Falcon coach Chris Bergeron. “’With where we are right now and the way this year has gone, we’re tied with them for third, it’s a big series.”
The Falcons are coming off a split at home against WCHA leader and No. 17 Bemidji State. They posted a 4-2 victory Friday in Game 2 of the series after the Beavers scored a 2-1 win in Thursday’s series opener.
Even though BG and MSU are within striking distance of Tech, they’re still only six points ahead of fifth-place Alabama-Huntsville and seven points ahead of sixth-place Ferris State in the battle for home ice in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.
The top four teams host best-of-3 quarterfinal series. BG and UAH each have played two more games than MSU and Ferris. The Falcons still have series at Ferris and at home against UAH.
REVIEW: The Falcons are looking to build momentum from the win over Bemidji. They rallied from a 2-0 first-period deficit to earn the victory.
BG pulled within 2-1 on Lukas Craggs’ goal in the last minute of the first period, and then controlled the final two periods. Freshman goalie Ryan Bednard kept BG in the game with 17 saves, 15 coming during the first two periods. Bednard was named the WCHA rookie of the week for his performance.
The Falcons didn’t play well during the first two first periods Thursday as they fell behind 2-0. They scored their goal with just 3:55 remaining and generated only a handful of quality scoring chances.
“There are some factors there that would be momentum builders,” Bergeron said of how the Falcons came from behind. “I’m hoping it can create some momentum because we need some momentum. The rollercoaster ride has been difficult on all of us mentally. We need some momentum to build off of going down the stretch.”
SATURDAY BEST: BG has been inconsistent all season, but the team has often played better in the second game of a series. The Falcons are 3-7-2 in the first game of a series and 7-5 in the second game of a series.
“We’ve been playing just an OK game the first night,” Bergeron said. “Then, we’ve been reacting to that and playing better the second night, and realizing we need to be more engaged to play better. The way our guys have been able to get more engaged is to kind of get angry, but they’re reacting to not playing well. That is something that has to change.
“We aren’t giving ourselves enough opportunities to win games,” Bergeron added. “The nights we give ourselves a chance, we’ve been doing fine. The other nights, we leave it to chance. I don’t think enough guys are engaged, and they get mad and, ultimately, are more engaged and play better.”
GOALTENDING: Bednard and senior Chris Nell have played well in goal recently, including the last three games when they allowed two or fewer goals each time. They’ve stopped 59 of 63 shots for a .937 save percentage.
“I do like our goaltending,” Bergeron said. “If we hold our opponents to under three goals, we give ourselves a pretty good chance. The last three games, since the break and before that, they’ve both given us a chance when they’ve played. I like that.”
Nell and Bednard have split BG’s last five two-game series, with Nell starting the first game of the series and Bednard playing the second game.
HEALTH: The Falcons’ Tyler Spezia wasn’t injured when he was checked hard into the boards during the final minute of Friday’s game. The junior forward has four goals, nine assists and an on-ice rating of +8 in 25 games.
But Falcon sophomore forward Matt Meier suffered an upper-body injury in practice this week. He has two goals and one assist in 12 games, while posting an on-ice rating of +3.
“We’re in the beginning stages of figuring out exactly what’s wrong. The indications are it could be a while,” Bergeron said.
SERIES: The Falcons are 4-9-3 all-time against MSU, including a 4-6-2 record since the teams became WCHA rivals for the 2013-14 season.
Nine of the last 12 games have been decided by two or fewer goals, including five one-goal games and the two ties. Five of the games have been gone to overtime.
Four of the five regular-season WCHA series between the teams have ended in splits, with the fifth resulting in two ties.