MANKATO, Minn. - Northern Michigan University knew coming into this weekend's first round WCHA playoff series against Minnesota State that containing the Mavericks' power play - ranked No. 4 nationally - would be critical in deciding whether the Wildcats' season would survive past Sunday.
Friday night at the Verizon Wireless Center, MSU's man-advantage was just too much to handle.
The Mavericks scored a pair of second period power play goals that amounted to the difference in a 3-2 victory over the Wildcats in Game 1 of the best-of-three series.
"At the end of the night, their power play beat our power play; they got two, we got one," Wildcats coach Walt Kyle said. "They're a very good team and they came out and got us."
Falling behind early didn't help, either.
The Mavericks scored once in the first period and two times in the second to build a 3-0 lead midway through the middle stanza.
Northern Michigan University's Ryan Daugherty, left, and Minnesota State University's Zach Lehrke race for the puck during the first period in WCHA playoff action Friday at the Verizon Wireless Center in Mankato. (Photo by Pat Christman/Mankato Free Press)
At one point, the Mavericks had three goals and the Wildcats just four shots but an even-strength tally by freshman forward Shane Sooth got NMU on the board and back into the game.
Sooth gained control of the puck at the top of the right circle and gunned to the slot, where he ripped a snap shot just under the crossbar at 15:01 of the second to make it a two-goal game.
Early in the third, the Wildcats pulled closer after a penalty on MSU defenseman Zach Palmquist put them on their first power play of the night.
NMU took advantage, moving the puck around to Brock Maschmeyer at the point. His big slap shot beat screened MSU goaltender Cole Huggins for his fifth of the season at 3:32.
"That goal got the bench going," NMU senior forward Stephan Vigier said. "We started to feel pretty good about ourselves."
After being outshot 22-8 through 40 minutes, the Wildcats owned a 10-3 edge over the final 20.
Darren Nowick nearly tied the game twice in the final half of the third, ringing a shot off the post with eight minutes to play before winning a puck battle in the left corner and skating alone to the front of the net.
Nowick tried to tuck the puck five-hole, but MSU goaltender Cole Huggins shut it down with a stick save.
"We were sleepy in the first and they took advantage," Vigier said. "In the third, I don't want to say we took over, but we played a lot better and had a lot of chances."
The Wildcats got goaltender Mathias Dahlstrom to the bench and skated 6-on-5 for the entire final minute, but could not get a shot to Huggins, who finished with 16 saves.
Dahlstrom made 25 stops for the Wildcats and Kyle said his performance was crucial in keeping NMU in the game.
"Solid. Made some huge saves," Kyle said.