BOWLING GREEN — The Bowling Green State University hockey team can exhale.
The Falcons claimed a 5-3 victory over Bemidji State in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association contest at the BG Ice Arena Friday, clinching a spot in the WCHA playoffs.
While the Falcons (14-14-6 overall, 11-11-4 WCHA) can exhale, they can’t relax. The next target is the highest possible playoff seeding, and a possible first-round home series for the first time since the 2007-08 Central Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs.
“There’s probably a little bit of relief, but I don’t want to overstate that,” Bowling Green coach Chris Bergeron said. “This was an opportunity, and this may be a little bit of coach-speak, but we’ve tried to concentrate on one day at a time and controlling what we can. …
“I’m sure we feel good that we’re going to be in the playoffs.”
The Beavers (10-17-7, 10-12-4) opened the scoring with a goal by Brendan Harms at 4:50 of the opening period, but exactly two minutes later Ben Murphy took a pass in the high slot from Pierre-Luc Mercier and rifled it past Bemidji State goalie Jesse Wilkins.
Midway through the period BG’s Bryce Williamson skated onto the puck along the near boards and directed it on goal; Mark Cooper redirected it past Wilkins for his team-leading 14th goal of the season and a 2-1 Falcons lead.
Bemidji State retied the game at 2:38 of the second period, but Bowling Green responded with a goal a little more than a minute later. Mike Sullivan won a faceoff to Sean Walker at the point, and Walker’s shot on goal was tipped by Kevin Dufour past Wilkins at 3:50.
“We’ve been able to respond [quickly] a few times [this season] when teams have tied it up,” Bergeron said.
“And that was definitely a huge one.”
Equally huge was a quick pair of goals by the Falcons roughly five minutes later. Walker scored on the power play at 8:34, and Ryan Carpenter tipped in a rebound at 10:40 to turn a 3-2 lead into a 5-2 advantage.
“For us to score right away, then to add a couple back-to-back, it showed our team can dominate teams when we’re playing the right away,” Walker said.
The Beavers scored a goal late in the second period, but never came closer.
The Falcons controlled play for much of the third period, eventually outshooting Bemidji State by a tally of 27-19.
“We feel we have to play that type of game against everybody, but especially against Bemidji because they want to get up and go — and they’re good at it,” Bergeron said. “You have to get pucks in and make them defend.
“And when we were able to do that, we were a handful to defend.”
Now the Falcons, who can finish no lower than sixth in the WCHA standings, look to sweep this two-game series and possibly secure a home berth in the best-of-three first-round playoffs series.
“We’re going to come out [today] with the same mind-set,” Walker said. “It’s Senior Night, so there’s going to be a great atmosphere in the building.
“Hopefully we’ll come out strong and play just like we did [Friday].”