KALAMAZOO, Mich. — UNO’s season now comes down to a winner-take-all finale on Sunday night.
No. 7 Western Michigan scored three third-period goals to top UNO 5-2 in Game 2 of their National Collegiate Hockey Conference best-of-three playoff series Saturday at Lawson Arena.
The winner of Sunday’s Game 3 will advance to the Frozen Faceoff in Minneapolis next weekend.
The Mavericks (17-16-5) entered Saturday’s game seeking their first road playoff series win since 2000 and their first conference semifinal berth since 2001. The third-period goals by the Broncos (21-10-5) denied them for now.
Wade Allison netted the game-winner 52 seconds into the final period, evading a UNO defender in the neutral zone and then scoring against goalie Evan Weninger, screened on the play, to break a 2-2 tie.
Hugh McGing and Michael Rebry added insurance goals as the Broncos evened the series.
UNO coach Dean Blais said he’d have taken a Game 3 entering the series, until his team won on Friday.
“It was opportunity missed,” he said. “It was 2-2 going into the third period and, on a Saturday night, that’s a good game for us. And that breakdown right away ... we played so well. We played so hard.”
Western Michigan’s third line of McGing, Colt Conrad and Allison did nearly all of the damage Saturday. They combined for four goals and six assists. McGing scored twice while Conrad racked up four points.
Allison’s game-winner came in the third straight period in which a goal was scored in the first minute.
“It’s pretty crazy how that turned out,” UNO’s Austin Ortega said. “Obviously, it made a difference.”
Tyler Vesel netted the first one, putting away a pass from Justin Parizek 48 seconds into the game. After the Broncos took a 2-1 lead on Conrad and McGing goals, Ortega tied it up 13 seconds into the second.
The senior’s breakaway tally was his 20th of the year, making him the first Maverick player to record three 20-goal seasons. All-time goals leader Scott Parse went 19-20-24 in his final three years at UNO.
“That’s something I never really thought could happen,” Ortega said. “That’s a pretty great milestone.”
The feat took a backseat to Saturday’s final, which now has the Mavs with their backs against the wall. Either UNO advances to the Frozen Faceoff for the first time or its season ends.
“We were a little down on ourselves,” Ortega said. “We were right there with them and we kind of blew it in the third. We all agreed we’d just put it past (us), look forward to tomorrow and start preparing.”
The Mavs outshot Western Michigan 38-32, and Blais felt his team had the better scoring chances.
The goal by Allison, a second-round draft pick for Philadelphia last year, turned the tide.
“It was a heck of a game up until the third period,” Blais said. “We had a chance to stop him in the neutral zone, and we missed him. And then he goes into the defensive zone, and we backed in. And then Evan was screened with a guy who’s going to sign with the NHL next year. That kind of broke our back.”
Saturday’s game was more physical than Friday’s opener, but it still featured lots of up-and-down play.
“I thought, at times, we had them on the run and couldn’t capitalize,” Blais said.
Ben Blacker made 36 saves for the Broncos while Weninger had 27 stops for the Mavs.
Both teams went 0 for 2 on the power play for the second consecutive night.
“I think both teams, at this time of the year, are tired so you’re not making the plays you made before,” Blais said. “Everyone is killing so well, and the goaltenders are playing so good, it’s tough to score a power-play goal.”
UNO’s coach went with the same lineup on Saturday that he did on Friday, when the Mavs won 2-1 on a Parizek goal 4:17 into overtime. With the whole team on the trip, switches are likely for Sunday.
“We’ve got everyone here so we’ll probably make a few changes,” Blais said.
UNO (17-16-5) .................................... 1 1 0—2
At Western Michigan (21-10-5) ........ 2 0 3—5
First period: 1, UNO, Tyler Vesel (Justin Parizek, Mason Morelli) :48. 2, WMU, Colt Conrad (Wade Allison, Hugh McGing) 7:56. 3, WMU, McGing (Conrad, Allison) 10:49.
Second period: 4, UNO, Austin Ortega (David Pope, Freddy Olofsson) :13.
Third period: 5, WMU, Allison (Corey Schueneman) :52. 6, WMU, McGing (Conrad, Luke Bafia) 12:21. 7, Michael Rebry (Conrad, Bafia) 13:11.
UNO .............. 11 13 14—38
WMU .............. 13 11 8—32
Power plays: UNO 0-2, WMU 0-2.
Penalties-minutes: UNO 4-8, WMU 4-8.
Goalies: UNO, Evan Weninger (32 shots, 27 saves, 60:00). WMU, Ben Blacker (38 shots, 36 saves, 60:00).