MANKATO, Minn. — Bowling Green played well during a large part of Saturday’s game against 18th-ranked Minnesota State.
The Falcons even held a 3-1 lead late in the second period, but it wasn’t enough.
MSU scored the game’s final four goals — the last three coming in the third period — to earn a 5-3 victory and a split of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association series.
The Mavericks moved back into a tie with BG for third place in the league and have two games in hand on the Falcons.
BG and MSU each have 32 points, seven behind second-place and No. 20 Michigan Tech. Tech also has two games in hand on BG. Had the Falcons swept the series, they would have been six points ahead of MSU and just four behind Tech.
“It’s pretty frustrating,” said BG senior captain Sean Walker, who scored twice.
Matt Pohlkamp had the other Falcon goal, while Ryan Bednard made 22 saves. The Mavericks held a 27-25 edge in shots on goal.
“To not be able to close out against a pretty good team in our conference and a ranked team, it’s disappointing,” Walker said.
The Falcons recorded a 3-2 victory Friday.
“It’s a missed opportunity for sure,” Walker said. “You want to be able to bear down and close out, especially against good teams in the back half of the year. You want to be playing your best hockey and close out games.”
OVERALL: BG spotted MSU the game’s first goal, but quickly responded to build its 3-1 lead. The Falcons were solid offensively and defensively. They were even dominant, at times, late in the first period and for much of the second period.
“We gave ourselves a big-time opportunity by playing the right way and playing hard,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “Ultimately, you have to give (MSU) credit. Their top people came through when they needed to.”
“We did a lot of things well,” Walker said. “We’re a handful when we’re playing right.”
The Falcons were seeking their third straight win, the first two coming against MSU Friday and WCHA leader and No. 17 Bemidji State Jan. 6. They played well overall in all three games, including a 4-2 win at home against Bemidji.
BG has been plagued by inconsistency this season after being named the favorite to win the WCHA championship in separate polls of the league’s coaches and media members. The Falcons are 12-13-2 overall and 10-9-1-1 in the WCHA.
“If we play the game a certain way, more times than not, we’re going to be a handful,” Bergeron said. “We just need to find a way to be more consistent than we’ve been to this point.
“We had some really good intensity and energy,” Bergeron added. “Your execution is always something you always strive to be better. Ultimately, we gave ourselves opportunities to win because we were competing, we were intense, we were doing what we do. We have to learn from it for sure, but we’re not going to beat ourselves up over it.”
Bergeron said BG’s play in the series was some of its best of the season, especially with the series being on the road against one of the league’s best programs. The Mavericks shared the WCHA regular-season championship last season and won it outright in 2015, and won playoff titles in 2014 and 2015.
“It’s pretty darn close to as good a hockey as we’ve played over the course of two games,” Bergeron said.
IN GOAL: Bednard played well until he allowed two soft goals in the third period.
Zeb Knutson’s power-play goal tied the game 3-3 at 7:54 and C.J. Franklin snapped the tie just 86 seconds later. Knutson’s shot from the right goal line banked in off of Bednard, and Franklin backhanded the puck through Bednard’s pads from in front.
“Unfortunately, to let in a couple goals like that in the third period is tough,” Bergeron said.
Bednard was starting a game for the sixth straight series. He had a 4-1 record in his last five games, posting a 1.74 save percentage and .917 save percentage.
POWER PLAY: The Falcons were 1 of 3 on the power play, although they actually had just two chances. When a team scores on a major penalty, it receives another power-play attempt statistically.
BG’s other power play came late in the second period when it held a 3-1 lead.
The Falcons had three shots with the extra man, all of them coming during the major.
PENALTY-KILL: The Mavericks were 2 of 3 on the power play. The first goal came after they won an offensive-zone faceoff, while the second came on Knutson’s bad-angle shot.
“We need to find a way to kill those penalties off,” Bergeron said.
RECAP: The teams played an entertaining game for the second straight night. They swapped scoring chances throughout the contest.
MSU’s C.J. Franklin, who is tied for the fourth in the league in scoring, had two goals and one assist. The junior forward’s first goal brought the Mavericks within 3-2 at 14:29 of the second period.
BG held MSU freshman forward Marc Michaelis to one goal in the series, the goal coming Saturday with just 37 seconds remaining to give the Mavericks a 5-3 lead. He’s the WCHA’s leading scorer with 28 points, including a league-best 17 assists.
Michaelis was awarded the goal by the referee. He was tripped and pulled down on a breakaway by BG’s Mitch McLain with an open net ahead of after the Falcons had pulled Bednard for the extra attacker.
STREAKING: McLain extended his consecutive game point streak to seven with an assist on Walker’s first goal. However, his five-game goal-scoring streak came to an end. McLain leads the WCHA with 15 goals and is second with 28 points.
INJURY: Falcon sophomore defenseman Adam Smith didn’t play Saturday, the result of a hand injury suffered Friday when he was blocking a shot. The extent of the injury will be determined once the team returns to BG.
“It doesn’t look great,” Bergeron said, adding Smith’s hand was “pretty swollen and sore.”
LINEUP: In addition to starting Bednard, the Falcons made two other lineup changes for the series finale. Jacob Dalton replaced Smith on defense, and forward Casey Linkenheld replaced Shane Bednard.
OFFICIALS: The game had only three officials for just less than three minutes in the second period after linesman Kyle Morin was injured. Morin was hit in the face with the puck.