By Nate Tenopir, Sports Editor
Minnesota State-Mankato arrived in Omaha on a six-game win streak. UNO entered Friday’s WCHA conference matchup unbeaten (7-0-1) in series openers. Something had to give. Friday it was the Mavericks special teams.
Mankato capitalized on two power plays and scored a shorthanded goal to grab a 6-3 win over Omaha Friday night at the CenturyLink Center. With the win Minnesota State improves to 10-5-2 on the year and 8-5-2 in the WCHA.
Mankato is now three points clear of UNO in the conference standings. The Mavs drop to 10-6-1, 6-4-1 in WCHA play.
“They’re playing well,” Mav Head Coach Dean Blais said about Minnesota State. “They deserve their bounces, and we had a few guys who didn’t have the best of games.”
Many of those guys make up parts of a special teams unit that had a particularly tough night. Mankato was a solid 2-for-5 on their power play chances, but what mattered most is when the goals came.
Mankato used its power play to tie the game 1-1 in the first, then used the man advantage to take a 4-3 lead in the second. In the third Omaha was within 4-3, but Minnesota State’s penalty kill got in on the act and effectively ended it with a goal just 1:40 into the period.
“In this league a lot of the wins go towards special teams plays,” Zahn Raubenheimer said after the loss. “They had one on the penalty kill, a few on the power play and we only had one the power play, and let [in] a couple of penalty kill goals and that will cost you games in this league.”
Thus it wasn’t just the goals the Mavs gave up, but the ones they didn’t score when they had the opportunities. Just minutes after White made it 1-0, UNO went on the first power play of the game at the 4:20 mark of the first.
Just 18 seconds later, three more penalties were called, two on Mankato, giving the Mavs a 4-on-3 advantage for 1:42, and a 5-on-3 for 18 seconds. Omaha had a few chances but never capitalized.
In the third UNO was trailing 4-3, but was given a power play chance just 55 seconds in. A bad bounce at the blue line sent Minnesota State’s Bryce Gervais the other direction on a breakaway.
Gervais scored it to push the lead to 5-3. The Mavs would have yet another power play chance at 11:49 of the final period.
Blais pulled goaltender Anthony Stolarz to get a 6-on-4, but Omaha never found the back of the net. UNO went just 1-for-6 on the man advantage and produce only five shots on those six chances.
“When you have a 5-on-3, 4-on-3 in the same power play and you don’t score, that’s a huge momentum builder for the other team,” Blais said. “You gotta give them credit. [When] it was 4-3 we got a chance on the power play, goaltender makes a save and they get a shorthanded goal to go up 5-3; kind of game over.”
Special teams struggles will get most of the attention from the loss. But many players the Mavs have counted on during a 9-2 run came up short as well.
Ryan Walters scored at 12:04 of the second to give himself points in eight of the last nine games. His normal linemates of Dominic Zombo and Josh Archibald assisted on the goal.
But those three points were the only points that line produced. In the previous nine games the trio of Walters, Zombo and Archibald had combined for 18 goals, 27 assists and 45 points, a five-point per game average.
“They didn’t have the same kind of line play,” Blais said. “Give Mankato credit, too. They had their good, top defensemen out there against that line at times. It’s a game of playing 60 minutes, and we had a sporadic performance. And we didn’t have a great team game. Half our team were a little bit off, and that’s too many.”
John Faulkner, who at 9-1-1 had the best winning percentage of any goalie in the nation, was pulled for Stolarz after Mankato took a 4-2 lead at 11:26 of the second.
Faulkner was in net for just over 31 minutes, faced 19 shots and saved 15. Once Stolarz got the call the freshman save 6-of-8 in 25 minutes of play.
“He was victimized a little bit,” Blais said about Faulkner. “I told John our team needed a little bit of a shock, a push or whatever. We scored to make it 4-3. I thought from that point on we’d settle down and have a chance to win it in the third period. But give them credit, they found a way to get their shorthanded goal.”
UNO is now left in a very unfamiliar position. Friday night is the first time the Mavs had to deal with disappointment after a series opener all season.
The only other time Omaha didn’t win an opener was a 3-3 tie with Bemidji State on Oct. 26. So once again, something will have to give tomorrow night.
Minnesota State wins and keeps the streak alive at eight in a row, or UNO bounces back and avoids being swept for the first time all season.
“Definitely motivating,” White said about the feeling going into Saturday night. “We want to win both games every weekend, that’s what the goal is. We gotta focus on ending on a positive note now and play harder. There’s nothing really to save it for because we have 10 days off. So tomorrow is gonna be a lot better game from us.”