O’Brien turned aside 44 of 45 shots, including everything during the opening 40 minutes when the Huskies had a 29-9 shot advantage.
“Kelly was very good,” said RPI coach John Burke. “You need that in games where you don’t have your legs and aren’t executing. She’s been doing that for us all year.”
Her team can be excused for a slow start, because its Thanksgiving was anything but a holiday.
“We had a very interesting day yesterday,” Burke said. “Our travel was horrendous. We had some plane issues and then made an emergency landing back to Albany, [N.Y.]. We didn’t get into here until about eight o’clock last night. So I give our kids a ton of credit for gutting it out. Not skating yesterday and then having a long day.”
Rensselaer (5-8-1, 3-3-0 ECAC) got goals from Alexa Gruschow, Toni Sanders, Lauren Wash on a power play, and Ali Svoboda into an empty net. Wash and Gruschow added helpers and Jordan Smelker had a pair of primary assists.
“We’re now just clicking better,” Smelker said. “We have a lot of chemistry, which is obvious.”
Payge Pena had the lone goal for SCSU (2-10-3, 1-7-2 WCHA) on a third-period power play.
“Scoring goals, it’s a knack, and we haven’t had it lately,” Huskies’ coach Jeff Giesen said. “I think we finally cranked it up in the second [period], but when you spot them a couple, it’s hard to come back when you don’t score very well.”
The Engineers led most of the way thanks to Gruschow’s tally 17:59 into the game. Gruschow centered the puck to Smelker, her shot was broken up by the Huskies, but Gruschow jumped on the puck, skated across the crease and beat Julie Friend inside the far post.
St. Cloud State pressed hard for the equalizer in the second period, including outshooting the visitors 15-2, but the closest the Huskies could come to scoring was a shot by Michelle Burke that clanked off the pipe. A close-in shot on an odd-man rush was sent over the crossbar and O’Brien gobbled up the rest.
Wash found Sanders alone in the slot at 5:16 of the final period and her quick shot beat Friend’s blocker for a 2-0 lead.
After Pena reduced the deficit to one goal, Wash and Svoboda scored 32 seconds apart in the final two-and-a-half minutes to put the game away.
“That’s an unfortunate game for us, because I think we’re as good as they are,” Giesen said. “We can play with them. We just got to play better. I thought we had pretty good jump for having a week off. We didn’t get into that rut like most teams do coming off a rest, but we just got to score goals.”
The teams complete the series on Saturday with another 3:07 p.m. CST start at the Brooks Center.
“They’ve got a good team,” Burke said. “I think we’re both very similar. We’re both not indicative of our records. I saw them play on tape and I was impressed with them today.”