MANKATO, Minn. — Minnesota State-Mankato scored twice in a dominant first period, then added a power-play goal early in the third to re-establish its two-goal lead and earned a 3-1 victory Sunday night over UNO to clinch their WCHA first-round playoff series.
Minnesota State, which won the opener of the best-of-three series Friday in overtime, had lost to UNO on Saturday to force a Game 3.
Nos. 10 and 11 MSU (24-12-3) advanced to the WCHA’s six-team, single-elimination Final Five tournament. It’s MSU’s first trip beyond the first-round of the playoffs since 2003.
No. 20 UNO finishes the season 19-18-2 after dropping the series between teams seeded sixth and seventh, respectively.
It was also UNO’s final game as a member of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association — the National Collegiate Hockey Conference begins next season with UNO as one of the charter members.
Dominic Zombo, who scored the UNO game-winner Saturday, pulled his team within 2-1 with a goal with 1:17 left in the second period, tipping in a shot by Josh Archibald. Ryan Walters also got an assist, giving him 52 points for the season, tied for the second-highest total ever recorded by a UNO player.
But UNO couldn’t manage a tie and saw its deficit return to two goals 4:30 into the third period on a goal by Matt Leitner.
After two penalty-free periods, UNO went on a power play early in the third period, but it lasted just six seconds as Zombo was called for slashing.
Shortly after that penalty expired, Archibald was sent off for roughing and Minnesota State capitalized, continuing UNO’s season-ending difficulty on the penalty kill.
Opponents scored 16 power-play goals in 36 chances against UNO penalty killers in the last eight games of the season. UNO went 2-6 in those games.
Eriah Hayes sent a backhanded pass to Leitner on the right wing, and Leitner scored his 17th goal of the season on a low wrist shot that got past John Faulkner with 15:30 left in regulation.
Minnesota State outplayed UNO in the opening period, with a 12-3 advantage in shots on goal leading to scores from Bryce Gervais and Max Gaede. It was the first goal of the season for Gaede and one of the assists went to Taylor Herndon, just his third of the year.
“That’s probably the best 20 minutes we’ve had in a good month,” MSU coach Mike Hastings told the Mankato Free Press. “I thought we came out with energy and thought we were committed to what we needed to do.”
Hastings, the longtime Omaha Lancers coach who spent the past three seasons as a UNO assistant, takes his first Minnesota State team into a Final Five matchup with Wisconsin on Thursday in St. Paul, Minn.
While Hastings contributed to recruiting many of the current UNO players, current UNO assistant Troy Jutting — who Hastings replaced — oversaw the recruitment of most of the Minnesota State roster.
Brock Montpetit had a quality chance on a wraparound in the second, but couldn’t slide it under goalie Stephon Williams.
UNO pulled Faulkner for an extra attacker during a 4-on-3 power play with 4:42 left in the game but couldn’t convert.
Faulkner, the fifth-year senior who on Saturday became UNO’s all-time wins leader, was sharp throughout while making 32 saves.
UNO (19-18-2) ........................... 0 1 0—0
MSU-Mankato (24-12-3) ........................... 2 0 1—3
First period: 1, MSU, Gervais 8 (Grant, Leitner), 8:23. 2, MSU, Gaede 1 (Herndon, Lehrke), 13:45. Second period: 3, UNO, Zombo 12 (Archibald, Walters), 18:43. Third period: 4, MSU, Leitner 17 (Lafontaine, Hayes), 4:30 (pp).
Shots on goal:
UNO ........................... 3 13 11—27
MSU-Mankato ........................... 12 11 11—34
Power plays: UNO 0-2, MSU 1-3. Penalties-minutes: UNO 4-8, MSU 3-6.
Goalies: UNO, Faulkner 16-10-2 (35 shots-32 saves), 58:30. MSU, Williams 21-10-2 (27-26), 60:00. Att.: 2,405.