Bowling Green’s special teams were dominant Friday night.
The Falcons scored four power-play goals, and their penalty-killing was perfect in a 7-0 win over Alabama-Huntsville in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association game at the Slater Family Ice Arena.
BG didn’t allow a power-play goal in seven attempts, including a 5-on-3 for the full two minutes with the Falcons holding a 3-0 lead with six minutes remaining in the second period.
The Falcon power play then scored twice in a 100-second span early in the third period to increase the lead to 5-0.
The 5-on-3 resulted from a major and game-misconduct penalties to Lukas Craggs at 11:36, and a minor for cross-checking to Mark Friedman at 14:00. After Friedman left the penalty box, BG killed off the rest of Craggs’ penalty.
“That’s huge,” Falcon goalie Chris Nell said of the 5-on-3 kill. Nell made 11 of his 33 saves against the UAH power play, including seven during the 5-on-3. BG also iced the puck several times during the Chargers’ two-man advantage.
“Any time you can get any kill, it’s big,” Nell said. “If you kill off a five-minute penalty without giving up a goal, it’s huge, and it got the crowd on our side that period. We never looked back from that point.”
The Falcons defended well during the 5-on-3, keeping UAH on the perimeter for most of the advantage.
“They did a really good job of keeping the guys out (in) front of the net off to the sides and let me see the puck well,” Nell said.
PK II: The BG penalty-killing is 78 of 87 (89.7 percent) during the last 21 games, including a 36-of-38 effort in the last eight games.
The Falcons are at 82 percent overall this season, including 85.2 percent in league-games only.
POWER PLAY: The Falcon power play was 4 of 11, with the goals scored by Mitch McLain, Adam Smith, Kevin Dufour and Frederic Letourneau. BG had 13 shots in 13:37 with the extra man.
“We had puck movement,” Dufour said. “People were ready to make plays. For the most part, people were ready to shoot it. The main part of our power play is getting pucks on net.”
OFFENSE: The Falcons, who had 42 shots on goal, played well in the offensive zone. They controlled the puck with their cycle, resulting in quality scoring chances. BG’s pressure also forced UAH to take penalties.
BG had good traffic in front of UAH goalie Carmine Guerriero as well. Three of its goals were on deflections.
“We were pretty good in the offensive zone, for the most part,” Bergeron said. “There were a bunch of shifts where we were a handful.”
The Falcons’ seven goals were one more than they had scored in their six previous games. BG was shut out in three of those games.
“We were opportunistic around their net,” Bergeron said. “We were ready to score, ready to execute around their net which, at times, we’ve struggled with.”
Eleven Falcons had at least one point in the game, including five different goal-scorers.
“It takes a lot of pressure off the defense,” Nell said. “It’s nice to see guys find that confidence. A lot of guys have been struggling with that confidence. But today, there’s no struggle up front for sure.”
Sean Walker led BG with eight shots on goal, while Alec Rauhauser had six, and Mitch McLain and Kevin Dufour both had five.
SHARP AGAIN: Nell continued his strong second half with his 33 saves against UAH. The junior has a 1.62 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage in his 11 games since BG returned from its Christmas break.
“I was tracking the puck well. I was out front of the play,” Nell said. “Tonight, I was really doing a good job of seeing (the puck).”
“He seemed on it tonight. He made some huge saves,” Bergeron said.
Nell has a 2.27 goals-against and a .907 percentage in 28 games this season. He had a 1.91 goals-against and a .930 save percentage in 37 games last season when he was a first-team All-Western Collegiate Hockey Association honoree.
“Pretty similar,” Nell said when asked to compare his play during the second half this season to his play last season.
CLEAN SHEETS: Nell’s shutout was his third of the season and 10th of his career.
All three of his shutouts have come in the last 11 games, including back-to-back shutouts of Mercyhurst at home Feb. 11 and UAH. His 10 career shutouts are BG’s school record. Nell entered the season tied for the record of seven with Tyler Masters (1999-2003) and Andrew Hammond (2009-2013).
Nell set BG’s single-season shutout record of four last season.
FAST START: Dufour finished with three goals and one assist. His first two goals, at 9:37 and 14:38 of the first period, gave BG a 2-0 lead.
“It helped for sure,” Dufour said of the 2-0 lead. “The guys were fired up already before the game. We knew it was a big weekend. That got the momentum going. Everybody was going tonight and everyone stuck to the process and the game plan.”
Dufour’s second goal, off an individual rush, was so good it made ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays of the Day Friday night.
PENALTIES: The teams played a physical and intense game, resulting in 19 penalties for 85 minutes.
UAH had 16 penalties for 40 minutes, including 11 penalties for 30 minutes in the third period. BG had seven penalties for 22 minutes in the third period. There were no game-disqualification penalties, although the game was heated.
“For the most part, we handled ourselves pretty well,” Bergeron said.
LINEUP: BG forwards Casey Linkenheld (lower-body injury) and Matt Meier (upper-body injury) didn’t play against UAH. Meier is out for the season after having surgery to repair his injury.
Bergeron said forward Shane Bednard is healthy after suffering an upper-body injury in practice last week.
“His week of practice was really a half a week of preparation. He really wasn’t part of the conversation,” Bergeron said.
FINALLY: McLain, who leads the WCHA with 15 goals, ended his six-game streak without a point. His last goal came Jan. 20 against Alaska (Fairbanks).
Letourneau’s goal was his first since Dec. 30. He had gone 11 games without a goal, totaling just two assists in that span.
OVERALL: The Falcons are 16-17-2 overall and 13-13-1-1 in the league going into Saturday’s regular-season finale against UAH (9-21-3, 9-15-3-0). The Chargers are next-to-last in the 10-team league.
“Our effort was good. Our guys respected our opponent,” Bergeron said of Friday’s win. “Ours were engaged for the most part. Our guys were ready to go. We executed at a pretty high level.
“We’ve tried to focus on having everybody in and do it for the team. If things aren’t really going our way, let’s not try to come apart or try to do it ourselves. Let’s come together and stick to a plan. That’s what we did.”
The Falcons are going for their first sweep since they won twice at UAH Nov. 18-19. BG can clinch home ice for the WCHA quarterfinals and the game is the team’s Senior Night.
“The key thing in college hockey is to have a short memory,” Bergeron said. “I’m not downplaying (Friday’s) game. We’ll enjoy the result tonight, and the way we played. There’s still work to be done. Our leadership group is mature enough. There’s lots to play for tomorrow tonight, but it’s all part of building momentum as we go into the post-season.”
STILL ALIVE: Despite the loss, UAH is still alive for the eighth and final playoff spot in the WCHA. The Chargers trail eighth-place Northern Michigan by one point.