Josh Kestner scored twice, including the game-winner with 29 seconds remaining, as UAH defeated No. 19 Northern Michigan 3-2 in Marquette on Saturday to force a deciding third game in the WCHA quarterfinal series.
UAH (12-22-2) earned its first-ever WCHA playoff victory by rallying twice from one-goal deficits.
Game 3 is Sunday at 6:07 p.m. The Chargers will try to become the first seventh seed to advance to the WCHA semifinals in the league’s current alignment that began in 2013-14.
Northern Michigan, the second seed, fell to 22-13-3 overall and hurt its chances of getting an NCAA at-large bid.
The Chargers played a much better defensively this time than in Game 1, when the Wildcats scored four times in the first nine minutes to win 7-1.
Senior goaltender Jordan Uhelski was big between the pipes, withstanding a barrage of shots in the second and third periods. He finished with 22 saves on 24 NMU shots.
The first period did not have a lot going on. There was a lot of up-and-down skating, but not many scoring opportunities, nor were there any penalties or power plays.
There were only eight shots on goal for both teams, with UAH getting five of them.
The biggest concern was the health of Christian Rajic, who slid hard legs-first into the boards near the NMU net. Rajic had to be carried by teammates off the ice.
The first turning point occurred in a more eventful second period, when on a 4-on-4 situation, Josh Kestner had a shorthanded breakaway. He had NMU goaltender Atte Tolvanen beat, but the puck hit the right post, crossed the crease, tapped Tolvanen’s right pad and out.
Going the other way, Troy Loggins blasted one past Jordan Uhelski from the high slot for a 1-0 lead at the 3:52 mark.
Kestner would get his goal at 11:47, when he found the upper right corner over Tolvanen from the right circle to tie the game at 1-1. It was Kestner’s 22nd goal of the season, assisted by Max McHugh (third).
That seemed to awaken the Wildcats, and they started pounding the pads of Uhelski. One eventually got through off the stick of Mitchel Slattery, who deflected a Philip Beaulieu pass to regain the lead for NMU at 2-1 at 14:18.
But UAH tied the game again with 2:38 left in the second, as Adam Wilcox poked a puck coming off the end boards in the left circle past Tolvanen. Tyler Poulsen notched his 16th assist.
The Wildcats had a flurry of chances throughout the third period, but Uhelski was up to the task, as well as that tighter Charger defense.
But it was UAH who had the last flurry, as Josh Kestner found a puck in the right circle and wristed it home for his second goal of the game and a 3-2 Charger lead.
Kester now has 23 goals on the year, setting a UAH modern Division I-era record for season goals by a senior, set by Jared Ross’s 22 in the 2004-05 season. He is one goal way from tying the overall Division I-era season record at UAH, which is 24 by Bruce Mulherin, also in 2004-05.
The Chargers are now 3-3 against Northern Michigan this season, and 2-2 in Marquette. UAH rebounded from losing the first game to winning the second game in each series.