Generally speaking, when you are playing the sixth-ranked team in the nation, you don't need to give them any extra help.
Yet that's exactly what Arizona State did on Friday night against the Lindenwood Lions. The Sun Devils—ranked No. 2 in the latest ACHA poll—coughed up a two-goal third period lead thanks to some bad penalties, but rallied in the final minutes to pull out a thrilling 6-5 victory in the series opener between two the nation's elite teams.
ASU was able to secure the win in a back-and-forth affair when Danny McAuliffe scored his fourth goal of the year with just 2:30 left in the game.
"I closed my eyes," the junior forward joked after the game.
However, the Sun Devils penalty kill unit was no laughing matter during the game. ASU committed six penalties over the last two periods, and the Lions made them pay dearly, scoring four times on the power play. Freshman defenseman Jordan Young, off to a sensational start with a team-high 11 points, was the primary culprit with three penalties on the night.
Early on, it seemed as if the Sun Devils would put a hurting on the visitors from Missouri. Dave Jantzie found the back of the net just 3:28 into the game, and captain Colin Hekle doubled the ASU lead with a great backhanded goal off of a breakaway a few minutes later. After the first period, the Sun Devils held a 2-0 lead and had an 18-5 advantage in shots.
Instead of putting Lindenwood away, the Sun Devils gave the Lions not one but two gifts to start the second period.
Forward Liam Norris was sent to the box early, and 29 second later was joined by Young. Lindenwood wasted little time with the 5-on-3 power play, with Steve Brancheau scoring 11 seconds later to cut the lead to 2-1. Soon after, freshman forward Darnell Dyck tossed up a backhander that beat ASU goalie Joe D'Elia to tie the game.
Shaking off that rough stretch, Jantzie struck again on a sensational breakaway in which he not only scored but drew a penalty. Not to be outdone, Hekle followed Jantzie's example and scored his second of the game and seventh of the year to send ASU into the second intermission with a 4-2 lead.
Once again, Lindenwood came out of the break firing on all cylinders, aided greatly by ASU mistakes. They were able to apply effective pressure on the Sun Devils, and the Lions' forecheck kept the puck in ASU's zone for lengthy stretches. Finally, after another Young penalty, the Lions broke through thanks to a power play goal off the blade of Daniel Walcott. They followed that up with a goal by defenseman Nick Carey off a redirection to tie the game.
When Young was sent to the box yet again with just over seven minutes left, it seemed as if ASU was doing everything they can to hand the game over to Lindenwood, and the Lions were more than happy to oblige. Junior forward Joe Bostic stunned the fans at Oceanside Arena when he scored with just one second left on the power play, the fourth goal for Lindenwood with the man advantage. With just over five minutes left, ASU faced their first deficit of the night.
Many teams may have let the shock of such a stunning third period collapse seal their doom. That was not the case with head coach Greg Powers' Sun Devils.
One minute later, Brian McGinty answered back with a huge goal, off assists from Hekle and Stephen Collins. Lindenwood, apparently not wanting to seem ungrateful for the power play gifts the Sun Devils had been giving all night, did ASU a huge favor when they committed a penalty with just 3:38 left in the game.
It was then that McAuliffe scored his "closed eyes" power play goal through a flurry of traffic in front of the net, and ASU regained the lead with just 2:30 left.
In a game this exciting, it was only fitting that ASU took yet another penalty with 1:12 left. Lindenwood mounting a furious 6-on-4 attack after they pulled the goalie, but the Sun Devils held firm and escaped with a 6-5 victory.
With the win, ASU moves to 6-0-0 on the season. They will face Lindenwood in the series finale Saturday night at Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe. The puck drops at 7:00 p.m., so be sure to head out and cheer on the Sun Devils.