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With their backs against the wall Saturday night, the No. 3 seed Minnesota State Mavericks managed to even their WCHA semifinal series with the No. 2 Michigan Tech Huskies by playing a superior defensive game en route to a 1-0 win at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena.
On top of the lone goal from winger Zeb Knutson, who has three goals this season in three games at the MacInnes, the Mavericks blocked more shots than they allowed to get through to goaltender Jason Pawloski in earning the shutout.
“I thought the guys were committed to it,” said Mavericks coach Mike Hastings. “It’s always hard to come up here. It’s always a difficult game. There is not lot of easy ice.”
The Mavericks broke the scoreless tie just 6:29 into the second period on a goal that was eerily similar to two of the goals the Huskies scored on Friday. Defenseman Clint Lewis intercepted the puck near his own blue line and, rather than make a short, safe pass, waited for Knutson to find some separation near the Huskies’ blue line. Lewis threaded the needle to get to puck to Knutson, who skated in alone and beat Huskies goaltender Angus Redmond with a wrist shot.
The goal was a rare moment for either team where a skater found separation.
“It was a transition [where] we picked up a puck,” said Hastings. “Clint got his head up. He had a short outlet and then Zeb got out behind. Clint easily could have made the short pass, but didn’t. He got his head up and found Zeb.”
The Huskies had found all kinds of open ice in the third period of Friday’s game, and that free space led to quality scoring chances and four goals. Saturday night, none of that space was made available to the Huskies as the Mavericks’ defense closed the gaps much quicker.
“They played us tighter in the neutral zone,” said Huskies coach Mel Pearson. “We didn’t try to come back to the puck and try to create some separation.”
Pearson did not like the Huskies’ effort offensively.
“We were just waiting for the puck to come to us instead of going to the puck,” said Pearson. “I think that was one of the keys.”
Huskies assistant captain Michael Neville echoed his coach’s perspective as his line, which had picked up 16 points on 19 Huskies’ goals in the playoffs prior to Saturday, was held off the board.
“I think we had our chances, we just didn’t have as many chances as we would have liked,” said Neville. “It’s just one of those games, a classic WCHA game. It’s 1-0, and not every game is going to be open wide like we have seen the past couple of games.”
Neville took a crucial penalty on the opening faceoff of the third period, putting the Huskies down two men for a lengthy portion of the early going. That stretch did not help the Huskies start the third period with the type of urgency they had been searching for throughout the night.
“We had to kill four to five minutes of penalties there consecutively,” said Pearson. “That just never let us get going on our game again.”
Pawloski made just 15 saves on the night to earn the win.
The teams will meet again Sunday night at 7:07 p.m. in the third and deciding game.
Bowling Green 2, at Bemidji State 1
Despite falling behind early in the first period when Gerry Fitzgerald put the Beavers up 1-0 just 3:16 into the contest, the Falcons struck twice in the opening four minutes of the second period to seal the victory and the series’ sweep. Kevin Dufour scored his fourth goal of the weekend just 1:35 into the middle frame and Matt Pohlkamp picked up his second as the Falcons found a way to keep the Beavers from evening the game.