MANKATO, Minn. — There isn’t supposed to be much difference between the sixth and seventh seeds, and Friday night there wasn’t.
Chase Grant scored 7:04 into overtime as Nos. 10 and 11 Minnesota State-Mankato beat No. 20 UNO 4-3 in the opening game of their WCHA playoff series. Minnesota State trailed 3-2 after two periods, and tied the game with 10:21 left in regulation.
Game 2 of the best-of-three matchup is Saturday at 7:07 p.m.
“I thought we outplayed them,” UNO coach Dean Blais said. “I thought we were the better team. We had more attempts, and had higher-quality shots.”
But forward Bryce Gervais broke up a play in the UNO offensive zone, setting up an odd-man rush. Grant, trailing the play, got a pass from JP Lafontaine and scored his seventh goal of the season on a wrist shot.
Blais said a UNO player fell down, creating the 3-on-2 that led to Grant’s game-winner.
“And he made a routine shot from the top of the circle,” Blais said. “It was a good shot, but they got a break on it.”
UNO, which finished seventh in the regular season, has lost five straight games and dropped to 1-17 all-time in conference playoff road games.
However, after losing 6-0 last weekend at Minnesota-Duluth and having surrendered 26 goals in its previous five games, UNO at least appeared to regain some of its early-season form.
“We played our game,” Blais said, “and we can’t play any better than that.”
Lafontaine had a goal and two assists and Zach Palmquist had a goal and an assist for sixth-seeded Minnesota State.
Ryan Walters, Matt White and Brent Gwidt scored goals for UNO, which also got two assists from Andrej Sustr.
UNO (18-17-2) started well, successfully killing off a penalty — a recent problem — and then scoring first as senior co-captain Gwidt got his own rebound and lifted a backhand over sprawling All-WCHA goalie Stephon Williams at 5:16 of the first period.
Minnesota State (23-11-3) tied the game later in the first period on a 5-on-3 power play, after Nick Seeler (hooking) and Sustr (high-sticking) were whistled for penalties nine seconds apart.
Palmquist fired a low shot from high in the right slot that got past John Faulkner, with MSU’s Eriah Hayes and others creating traffic in front.
“Four guys were in front, but he kept it on the ice,” Blais said. “I don’t know if he did that on purpose or not, but if that was in the air it would have hit a body. Instead it scooted through and found its way to the net.”
Faulkner, the senior, started in goal after being used in relief of Ryan Massa each game last weekend at Minnesota-Duluth. Blais said late Friday that he was unsure of the starter Saturday at his unsettled goalie position. Dayn Belfour was the backup Friday, and Massa is also on the trip.
MSU got another power-play goal early in the second period while a delayed penalty was in effect — which would have created another 5-on-3. However, Lafontaine went top shelf to make it 2-1 to merely set up another power play at 3:47.
UNO killed off that penalty, and then scored a top-shelf goal of its own as White cut in from the right wing and scored on a backhand despite having a defenseman on his back.
Then UNO made it 3-2 on a power play, as Walters beat Williams with a strong wrist shot over the glove of the WCHA’s freshman of the year with 1:36 left in the second period. It was the 22nd goal of the season for Walters, the All-WCHA forward.
But despite a number of premium chances, both early and late in the game, UNO still couldn’t put another one past Williams. UNO had a 35-34 advantage in shots on goal.
“Their goaltender played well,” Blais said. “He made some nice saves at the right time to keep them in there.
“It was a great up-and-down hockey game, and I told our guys we couldn’t do a whole lot more. We out-chanced them, outshot them and outskated them.”
MSU tied the game with 10:21 left in regulation, as Gervais got his seventh goal, collecting a backdoor pass from Lafontaine and scoring.
“We were planning on this series going three games,” Blais said. “This just makes (Saturday) all the more important. Hopefully our conditioning pays off. We rolled four (forward) lines and six (defensemen) and we had good jump. We’re prepared.”
UNO (18-17-2) ........................... 1 2 0 0—3
At MSU-Mankato (23-11-3) ........................... 1 1 1 1—4
First period: 1, UNO, Gwidt 8 (Raubenheimer, Sustr), 5:16. 2, MSU, Palmquist 6 (Leitner, Nelson), 17:06 (pp, 5-on-3).
Second period: 3, MSU Lafontaine 9 (Palmquist, Lehrke), 3:47. 4, UNO, White 16, 5:53. 5, UNO, Walters 22 (Sustr, Zombo), 18:24 (pp).
Third period: 6, MSU, Gervais 7 (Lafontaine, Jutzi), 9:39. Overtime: 7, MSU, Grant 7 (Lafontaine, Elbrecht), 7:04.
Shots on goal:
UNO ........................... 12 11 9 3—35
MSU ........................... 11 10 6 7—34
Power plays: UNO 1-3, MSU 2-4.
Penalties-minutes: UNO 5-10, MSU 3-6.
Goalies: UNO, Faulkner 15-9-2 (34 shots-30 saves), 67:04. MSU, Williams 20-9-2 (35-32), 67:04.