Allowing a first-minute goal is hardly the first ingredient in the recipe for road success.
But No. 20 Minnesota State-Mankato overcame its early hiccup and played with the lead for most of the game Friday night in a 6-3 win against Nos. 13 and 14 UNO for its seventh straight WCHA victory in front of 6,125 at the CenturyLink Center.
“Nothing has rattled us in this little stretch we're on,” said Minnesota State forward Johnny McInnis, who called Matt White's goal an early wakeup call. “You give up a goal in the first minute in this building against those guys, you'd think the (stuff) was going to hit the fan. But it didn't.”
McInnis scored twice, Teddy Blueger had three assists, Stephon Williams made 25 saves and Bryce Gervais added a third-period, short-handed goal in handing the University of Nebraska at Omaha its first series-opening loss of the season.
“It's a game of 60 minutes, and we had a sporadic performance,” UNO coach Dean Blais said. “We didn't have a great team game. Half our team was a little off, and that's too many — especially against a team that's won six in a row and is playing with confidence.”
MSU (10-5-2, 8-5 WCHA) killed off a 5-on-3 power play in the first period, tied the game on McInnis' first goal, then scored three second-period goals, including two in 1:23 that turned a 2-2 tie into a 4-2 lead.
MSU had a 25-21 advantage in shots on goal through two periods, then played it safe in the third period — scoring on its only two shots — while jumping past idle Minnesota into a tie for second place in the league with 16 points.
MSU also won in coach Mike Hastings' return to Omaha. The longtime Lancers coach had spent the previous three seasons as UNO's associate head coach.
The early goal made Hastings more than a little uneasy.
“I thought, 'Here we go, it's going to be a long night,' ” Hastings said. “We were just trying to hold serve for the first six or seven minutes. Didn't want that one-goal lead to turn into two or three. They can score in bunches. We were fortunate to get out of the first period tied 1-1.”
UNO (10-6-1, 6-4-1) dropped to sixth in the WCHA, though it is four points out of first and has played at least one fewer game than four of the five teams ahead in the standings. UNO and MSU play again Saturday at 7:07 p.m.
Saturday “is a huge game,” Blais said. “It's huge for the end of the year because the league is going to be so tight. Minnesota State got their (split) for sure. Now it's up to us to come back with a strong performance.”
MSU scored on two of its five power-play chances and also had the pivotal short-handed goal with 18:20 left in the game.
“Lots of the wins in this league come on special teams plays,” said UNO forward Zahn Raubenheimer, whose goal made it 2-2. “They had one on the penalty kill and two on the power play. That'll cost you games in this league.
“They're a good hockey team with good players and a good coach. They executed and we didn't.”
MSU scored two goals 1:23 apart in the second period, ending the night for UNO goalie John Faulkner (9-2-1).
First Jean-Paul Lafontaine, who couldn't convert from the slot seconds earlier, got a second chance on a nearly identical setup to put MSU ahead 3-2.
Then McInnis skillfully evaded sliding defenseman Michael Young and beat Faulkner. Blais then called on Anthony Stolarz.
“He was victimized a little bit, but four goals in half a game … I thought Anthony made a couple of great saves right away,” Blais said. “I told Johnny our team needed a little bit of a shock, a push. We scored to make it 4-3, and I thought we'd have a chance to win it in the third period. But give them credit: They found a way to get a short-handed goal.”
UNO made it a one-goal game as Josh Archibald took a pass from Dominic Zombo at the right post and slid it blindly between his legs to Ryan Walters at the left post, and UNO's scoring leader deposited his eighth goal at 12:04 into an open net.
But MSU restored the lead to two goals, 5-3, on the short-handed breakaway by Gervais 1:40 into the third period. Jon Jutzi added an insurance goal with two minutes left.
“No win is easy, but they say Friday night is easier,” McInnis said. “They're going to come back and give us everything they've got (Saturday). It's going to be a battle, and it's going to be a lot of fun.”
MSU-Mankato (10-5-2, 8-5) ................. 1 3 2—6
At UNO (10-6-1, 6-4-1) ................. 1 2 0—3
First period: 1, UNO, White 8, :53. 2, MSU, McInnis 7 (Grant, Blueger), 12:11 (pp).
Second period: 3, MSU, Margonari 5 (Lafontaine, Palmquist), 3:05. 4, UNO, Raubenheimer 7 (White, Aneloski), 8:26 (pp). 5, MSU, Lafontaine 5 (Leitner, Lehrke), 10:03 (pp). 6, MSU, McInnis 8 (Blueger), 11:26. 7, UNO, Walters 8 (Archibald, Zombo), 12:04.
Third period: 8, MSU, Gervais 4 (Zuck, Stern), 1:40 (sh). 9, MSU, Jutzi 1 (Blueger, McInnis), 18:00.
Shots on goal:
MSU ................. 12 13 2—27
UNO ................. 11 10 7—28
Power plays: MSU 2-5, UNO 1-6.
Penalties-minutes: MSU 9-18, UNO 8-16.
Goalies: MSU, Williams 7-3-1 (28 shots-25 saves), 60:00. UNO, Faulkner, 9-2-1 (19-15), 31:16, Stolarz (8-6), 25:02.
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