TEMPE, Ariz. -- A win is a win, but some wins feel lesser than others.
Arizona State eeked out a narrow win over the visiting Colorado Buffaloes by a score of 3-2, leaving many feeling uneasy about the Sun Devils recent less-than-impressive wins over inferior competition.
ASU, ranked No. 1 in the ACHA, did not blow out the visitors as many expected. Colorado came into the game 1-5-1 on the year following an 8-0 loss to Arizona the previous night.
Despite the apparent mismatch, the Buffaloes managed to make it interesting throughout the night. Coupled with last Saturday's narrow win over NAU, a Division II team, concern is slowly building about the Sun Devils' tendency to play down to their competition of late.
The game began as most expected, with ASU grabbing the early lead.
After a few minutes of back and forth action, the Sun Devils took to the game's first power play following a Colorado hooking penalty, and wasted no time in converting. Just 13 seconds into the man advantage, Kale Dolinski fed a wide open Colin Hekle for an easy one-timer off to Buffalo goalie Alex Palumbo's stick side. Five minutes later, ASU doubled their lead when Brian McGinty redirected an Alex Temby shot in from the point.
It was all going according to plan...until it wasn't. The Buffaloes did not bend in the face of the early onslaught, and remained disciplined in the defensive zone.enough to stifle any additional Sun Devil chances.
Colorado's stronger-than-expected play carried over into the second period.
Despite being outshot in the frame 19-7, the Buffaloes continued to play sound defense, limiting ASU's quality scoring chances. In fact, the period's lone goal came when ASU's Patrick Yudez threw the puck at the net from a sharp angle to Palumbo's gloveside, and the in ensuing traffic, found its way into the net.
It was then that Palumbo took over the game.
The freshman goalie made several outstanding saves throughout the second period, keeping the Sun Devils out of the net. Heading into the third period, the Buffaloes remained in the game and maintained their confidence.
That faith was rewarded midway through the final period.
While on a power play, Colorado's Tyler Patrick gained possession behind the net and fired a perfect pass to a streaking Eddie Lang in the slot. Lang's shot beat ASU goalie Robert Levin, and gave the Buffaloes renewed life.
That life would grow dramatically stronger just over a minute later, when ASU appeared confused during a delayed penalty call, allowing CU's Hurley Kane to dribble the puck through Levin's five hole and cutting the lead to 3-2 with over eight minutes remaining.
Could a colossal upset be brewing?
It appeared so, as Colorado continued to press the attack, while ASU failed to comeback strong. Levin made a few key stops down the stretch, and the Sun Devils did a better job in the game's final minutes of maintaining possession. ASU hung tough enough to prevent CU from pulling Palumbo for the extra attacker, and the Sun Devils got their 15th win of the season.
Levin stopped 20 Colorado shots to improve to 8-0-0 on the year. Palumbo was fantastic in net and made 44 saves, but fell to 1-4-0.
The teams will complete the series on Saturday night at Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe, with a 7:30 p.m. puck drop.
1st - ASU, 15:41 - Hekle (12), assists Dolinski, McGinty Power Play
1st - ASU, 9:50 - McGinty (11), assist Temby
2nd - ASU, 15:10 - Yudez (4), assists Ritchie, Burkemper
3rd - CU, 9:23 - Lang (1), assist Patrick Power Play
3rd - CU, 8:19 - Kane (1), assist Florian