MANKATO, Minn. — Bowling Green rebounded from a difficult start Friday night.
The Falcons survived Minnesota State’s dominant first period, and then were solid most of the way after that to post a 3-2 overtime win in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association game.
Mitch McLain scored 3:55 into overtime to give the Falcons win, while Kevin Dufour had BG’s other two goals, and goalie Chris Nell made 34 saves.
Fourteen of Nell’s stops came in the first period when 18th-ranked MSU held a 15-6 edge in shots on goal and a 28-15 margin in total shots attempted. But Nell’s play and the Falcons’ gritty work in their own zone kept the Mavericks’ lead at only 1-0.
BG moved into sole possession of third place in the WCHA, three points ahead of the Mavericks, who have two games in hand on the Falcons.
“The guys had a mentality tonight they weren’t going to be denied,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “It was a good road win.”
The Mavericks held two one-goal leads in the game, the first on Ian Scheid’s goal at 14:25 of the first period and the second on Zach Stepan’s goal at 17:04 of the second period. Dufour tied the game both times in the second period. He made it 1-1 at 7:57 and then tied it at 2-2, just 1:45 after Stepan gave MSU the lead.
“I really liked our energy and our intensity at the start,” Bergeron said. “They had more jump than we did, but we were defending hard. I didn’t like our play with the puck at times early.
“But the second period, we really played a strong period. We didn’t play ourselves out of the game in the first,” Bergeron added.
BIG PICTURE: The Falcons and the Mavericks play another big game tonight. No. 20 Michigan Tech is second in the league with 37 points, followed BG with 32 and MSU with 29. But Tech and MSU each have two games in hand on the Falcons.
Tech and Alaska-Anchorage played a 3-3 tie Friday in Houghton, Michigan, but UAA scored during the 3-on-3 overtime to earn the second point in the WCHA standings. The Tech-UAA series also concludes tonight.
The Falcons have won four of their last five games and were coming off a 4-2 win at home against No. 17 and WCHA leader Bemidji State last weekend. Bemidji, idle this weekend, still holds a 17-point over Tech and a 17-point lead over BG.
BG is 12-12-2 overall and 10-8-1-1 in the WCHA. MSU, which had a three-game winning streak ended, is 13-8-2, 9-6-2-0
THE WINNER: McLain’s winning goal finished a three-way play with Lukas Craggs and Pierre-Luc Mercier. He scored on a one-timer from the right circle, taking Craggs’ cross-ice pass on a 2-on-1 down low. BG began the rush by coming up with a turnovers, followed by Mercier feeding Craggs.
“We made a tic-tac-toe play,” said McLain, who is from Baxter, Minnesota, just over three hours north of Mankato.
TURNAROUND: BG responded well over the final 44 minutes by playing more of the game in its offensive zone. The Falcons had 20 of their 26 shots on the goal after the first period, while MSU had 19.
The teams treated a crowd of 3,791 to an entertaining and fast-paced game, filled with quality scoring chances.
“We weathered the storm,” McLain said. “Chris Nell held us in, and we defended pretty well. They came with a big push that got us in the game. We came in (after the first period) and said we had to get into our game, and that’s playing offense, or it’s going to be a really long night for us. We did a better job the second and third periods.”
The Mavericks are the league’s highest-scoring team, averaging 3.09 goals per game.
“All in all, a game, you’re going to beat (Minnesota State) in their rink, it’s going to have to be that,” Bergeron said. “You’re going to have to take some momentum and basically take some shifts where they’re giving it to you, and we did that. We took away time and space for the most part.”
Nell is 10-6-1 in its last 17 games, posting a 2.06 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. He’s also improved his season save percentage to .898 by stopping 74 of 78 shots in his last three games for a .949 save percentage.
BIG GAME: BG’s line of Dufour, Tyler Spezia and Matt Pohlkamp played well. They combined for seven shots on goal, including three each by Dufour and Spezia. Spezia centers the line, with Dufour on left wing and Pohlkamp on right wing. Spezia also assisted on Dufour’s first goal.
“Those guys led the way, kept us in the game when things weren’t going well,” McLain said.
Dufour and Pohlkamp are seniors, while Spezia is a junior.
“Hats off to Kevin Dufour. He was a senior leader and really brought it tonight,” McLain said.
STRONG AGAIN: Nell turned in another strong game, despite Stepan scoring on a bad rebound.
The junior made 10 of his saves against the Mavericks’ top line of Marc Michaelis, C.J. Franklin and Brad McClure. Six of the stops were against McClure. The Mavericks also missed the net on 18 shot attempts, while the Falcons blocked another 16 attempts.
“Chris did a pretty good job,” Bergeron said. “He made some big saves when we needed him to.”
Michaelis is the WCHA’s leading scorer with 27 points, while McClure is fifth with 20 and Franklin is tied for sixth with 19.
PENALTY-KILLING: The Falcon penalty-killing was 4 of 4, the last coming in the extra period. BG allowed just three shots in 6:07 and even generated some quality scoring chances when it was down a man. MSU’s power play is second in the league at 18.5 percent (22 of 119).
The BG penalty-killing was just 6 of 8 against Bemidji last weekend, but was sharp against MSU. The Falcons also killed off another MSU power play with the score tied 2-2 just over eight minutes into the third period.
“We’ve been trying to get our kill better the second half,” McLain said. “We weren’t where we wanted to be. On the road, you can take away momentum killing penalties, and they’re a good team on the power play. The (overtime kill was) a big momentum swing for us.”
“I liked the way we killed penalties,” Bergeron said.
POWER PLAY: BG was 0 of 3 on the power play, ending a streak of three straight games with a power-play goal. The Falcons had just two shots in 4:07 with the extra man.
ON A ROLL: McLain scored a goal for the fifth straight game and tallied a point for the sixth straight game. The junior forward leads the WCHA with 15 goals and is second with 25 points.
HOMECOMING II: BG defenseman Chris Pohlkamp and forward Matt Pohlkamp also are from Baxter, Minnesota.
LINEUP: Defenseman Jacob Dalton and forward Casey Linkenheld were healthy scratches for BG. The Falcons are limited to a 22-player travel roster under WCHA rules.
Forward Jakob Reichert and Matt Meier (upper-body injury) were among those who did not make the trip.