MARQUETTE —- Minnesota State scored two short-handed goals and picked up three more via the power play on Saturday in a 5-1 victory at Northern Michigan to move within two points of Ferris State in the WCHA’s race for the McNaughton Cup.
NMU closed within two goals via a successful penalty shot by senior forward Erik Higby at the close of the second period, but Mavericks sophomore forward Bryce Gervais and junior forward Chase Grant both buried short-handed breakaways in the third to rout the Wildcats.
“I don’t know if that’s a penalty shot or not, but the guys bucked up,” MSU coach Mike Hastings said. “They end up finishing and I thought the guys held strong and stayed together tonight. I thought the commitment to each other was real solid.”
After falling on the road for the 10th time on Friday, 5-2, at NMU, the Mavericks scored the first three goals Saturday en route to only their sixth win of the season away from Mankato.
MSU senior forward Johnny McInnis scored at 18:15 of the first period on a power play with assists from Zach Lehrke and Matt Leitner to take a 1-0 lead.
Jean-Paul Lafontaine then struck three seconds after the expiration of a five-minute major on NMU sophomore forward Robert Lindores for boarding, with Leitner notching his second assist.
Leitner made it 3-0 MSU at 15:32 of the second with another power-play goal that was assisted by Lafontaine.
“I thought our push back and commitment to what we need to do was a lot better,” Hastings said. “It’s been a long two months (on the road). Other than the Ferris weekend, we’ve had two (home) games since Dec. 6-7. It’s been a long road and I know it wasn’t perfect. I just thought tonight was a really important game.”
MSU goaltender Cole Huggins finished with 16 saves and a penalty shot away from the shutout.
Mathias Dahlstrom stopped 25 shots for the Wildcats, who finished 0-for-7 on the power play. Of those seven chances, the Wildcats killed two themselves by taking penalties on the advantage in the second period.
Then of course, there were the two short-handed goals given up in the third period.
“Quite honestly, our power play really let us down,” NMU coach Walt Kyle said. “When you get on power plays, you at least expect to establish some possession and we didn’t even get in the zone.
“We turned pucks over. We started doing stuff individually, stupid stuff on the power play. When that happens, it just kind of snowballs into everything else and they took the game away from us at the end of the second.
“It’s our worst night of the year for sure.”
The Wildcats now hit the road to take on league-leading Ferris State next weekend, while the Mavericks play four straight on their home ice against Bemdiji State and Alabama-Huntsville.