MARQUETTE - The Northern Michigan University hockey team gained ground in the race for home-ice in the first round of the CCHA playoffs Friday and while head coach Walt Kyle was happy with the final score, the shot margin left him displeased.
The Wildcats beat Lake Superior State 3-1 at the Berry Events Center via a goal and two assists by sophomore forward Reed Seckel, however, junior goaltender Jared Coreau was forced to stop 50 of 51 shots in a back-and-forth, up-and-down offensive exchange Kyle would not like to see come playoff time a week from Friday.
"You have to be better defensively than that," Kyle said. "That's not the way you want to play going into the playoffs.
"Having said that, I think offensively we did some really, really good things. What I didn't like was our willingness to trade chances and race up and down."
Seckel gave NMU a 1-0 lead in the first period with his team-leading 13th goal 13:40 into the game via assists by senior defenseman Scott Macaulay and junior linemate Erik Higby.
Higby put Northern up 2-0 1:39 into the third period on the power play with assists from Seckel and senior forward Kyle Follmer.
Northern Michigan University’s Matt Thurber (12) looks to pass as Lake Superior State's Chris Ciotti attempts to steal the puck during the second period of the CCHA game at the Berry Events Center in Marquette on Friday. NMU posted a 3-1 victory. (Journal photo by Zach Jay)
Senior forward Matt Thurber appeared to insert the dagger into the Lakers with three minutes to play on a breakaway that was set up by Seckel and Follmer, who were both credited with assists.
"We played good down low," Seckel said. "We cycled the puck, we moved it around, we got the puck to the net and we found a way to get it in the back of the net."
That dagger didn't look as definitive when the Wildcats gave up their ninth shorthanded goal of the season with 1:45 to play.
NMU 3, LSSU 1
Lake Superior State 0 0 1 - 1
Northern Michigan 1 0 2 - 3
First period - 1, NMU, Reed Seckel/13 (Scott Macaulay/11, Erik Higby/12) 13:40.
Second period - No scoring.
Third period - 2, NMU, Erik Higby/9 (Reed Seckel/11, Kyle Follmer/8) 1:59 (pp). 3, NMU, Matt Thurber/6 (Reed Seckel/12, Kyle Follmer/9) 17:00. 4, LSSU, Bryce Schmitt/3 (Andrew Perrault/13) 18:15 (sh).
Shots on goal - LSSU 18-19-14 51; NMU 17-10-12 39.
Power plays - LSSU 0 of 2; NMU 1 of 4.
Penalties - LSSU 5 (13 min); NMU 4 (8 min).
Goalies - LSSU, Kevin Kapalka 6-8-1 (59:02 minutes, 39 shots-36 saves); NMU, Jared Coreau 15-16-4 (60:00, 51-50).
The shorty by LSSU freshman forward Bryce Schmitt not only robbed Coreau of a shutout, but left him a save short of matching his career-high in saves, set on Dec. 11, 2010 - his freshman year - against Notre Dame.
"It's something you never really like to see," Coreau said. "I know my team is better than that. Every team has games like that. I'm sure even the Detroit Red Wings had games like that in the last year or so.
"Sometimes you have to do your job and that's all I did tonight."
The Wildcats and Lakers face off for a fourth time this season at 7:35 p.m. tonight in Marquette in what is the last evening of regular season action in the CCHA's storied history.
The Lakers won the first two meetings Dec. 14-15, 3-0 and 3-1.
Northern can gain another weekend of hockey at the Berry Events Center and host a CCHA first-round playoff series via a number of scenarios, but all center around the 'Cats coming away victorious.
That's easier said than done considering NMU had won back-to-back Friday games on the road heading into this weekend, only to miss out on series sweeps via letdowns in the third period.
NMU fell 5-3 at Michigan State on Feb. 16 after leading 2-1 in the third and lost 5-3 at Bowling Green State on Feb. 23 after tying the Falcons 3-3 in the third.
"Each Saturday game it came down to the third period," Seckel said. "Both games we were winning or in tie games. It's just minor details, plan and simple. We need to move the puck forward instead of south."
To host a best-of-three series March 8-10, the Wildcats need a win in regulation or overtime tonight against LSSU and a Bowling Green loss at Notre Dame, or a Michigan loss either in regulation, overtime or a shootout.
Anything less than three points tonight means NMU travels next week to Ann Arbor, Sault Ste. Marie or Bowling Green, Ohio.
The Broncos victory Friday over Michigan State ensured the Spartans will finish last in the CCHA for the first time ever and have to travel to No. 6 Alaska for the second time in three weeks.
"We know if we get a win, it's definitely going to help," Coreau said. "We also know we need some help around the league. We just have to play and do the things we can control. We can't control what Michigan is going to do tomorrow or what Bowling Green is going to do tomorrow or Ferris. We just have to play, try and get the win and see what happens."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mattwellens