For the first 17 minutes, Maple Grove simply did not have it going right.
In an attempt to keep a perfect record in conference play, the Crimson had to try to find whatever it was, after a tough first period against Centennial, which it eventually did in a 3-0 win on Saturday, Feb. 4 at the Centennial Sports Arena.
One answer came from the stick of defenseman Jordan Gross, who unleashed a slap shot from the blue line to give the Crimson a 1-0 lead with just 11 seconds left in the second period.
"I think it gave us a little spark," Gross said of his 14th goal of the season. "We didn't play that well in the first, but we picked it up after and that goal was a momentum boost for us."
Maple Grove had its hands full with the Cougars prior to Gross scoring as Centennial pushed the issue on the offensive end and was not allowing many quality chances one would expect from the No. 3 team in the state.
"It was kind of a rugged game until we scored," Crimson forward, Tony Paulson said. "We kind of calmed down after that, played our game and moved the puck."
Centennial has been a team that has caused fits among some of the elite teams in the state.
There was a 2-1 loss to No. 2 Minnetonka, a 4-2 loss earlier to the Crimson, an overtime loss to No. 8 Benilde-St. Margaret's and a hard fought defeat to No. 6 Eden Prairie.
"We have a talented team, but we just need to find a way to score goals," Centennial coach, Ritch Menne said. "I think we are good enough and have the confidence to play against some of these teams, and I thought tonight, we played well in all three periods."
If there was a time for the Cougars to snap what is now a seven-period scoreless streak, it would have been to the Crimson in the first period, where they had the chances and the attack to put some doubt in the Northwest Suburban Conference leaders.
But like good teams do, the Crimson were able to survive unscathed and regrouped after a sub-par start.
"We could tell from the start, things weren't quite right," Crimson coach, Gary Stefano said. "We were able to get through that first period without being scored on.
"Give them credit. They came out and played a tough game against us. Whenever we play these guys we are always at a one or two goal game. Great effort on our guys to come back."
When the third period started, Maple Grove came out like the team that has only suffered one loss this season.
It was sharp and crisp with passes, attacking the net and was eventually able to build a 2-0 lead on Paulson's 17th goal of the season.
"If you get quality chances, that's what it's all about," Stefano said. "Sooner or later, the puck is going to go in."
Maple Grove has swept the two-game season searies, but this might not be the final time it will see the Cougars.
The Crimson has all but locked down the No. 1 seed in Section 5AA, while Blaine and Centennial could take the next two spots following.
A confident Menne said he expects another meeting with the Crimson.
"We shook hands and I told them that we would see them in the section finals," Menne said. "We are not afraid of anybody and we will take on anybody on any night."
Stefano concurred that there is a good chance that Centennial could get into the finals as well.
"Without a doubt," Stefano said. "Right now it would be Blaine and these guys (Centennial). They should be playing each other in the semifinals. We wouldn't be surprised to see either team."
Since Maple Grove tied Andover back on Jan. 21, it has outscored its opposition 24-4 in the past four games that followed.
Perhaps there was some looking ahead in that game as the Crimson were set to square off against rival Blaine five days after, but they bounced back and have left teams in the rear-view mirror since.
"Andover was a wake-up call for us," Jordan Gross said. "Now we are ready to go for the rest of the year."
Maple Grove has taken care of business since the tie, never trailing at any point, and is in pursuit of a second consecutive unblemished conference season and in search of a state tournament birth that has always eluded the Crimson.
"Bump in the road," Paulson said. "This is one of the best teams that I have ever been on and am just having a lot of fun playing with these guys."
There is one more test for the Crimson when it plays Elk River on Feb. 11.
After the Elks, there is North Metro and Osseo left in the regular season.
"I think we are ready to go for the rest of the season and are playing some good hockey right now," Paulson said.
"It was a little disappointing that we didn't start off that well tonight," Gross said. "But we came back and played a good game and need to play like that against good teams."
When section play does come, there is the chance of seeing a familiar foe yet again.
"We might see these guys or Blaine," Paulson said. "We just have to be more ready from the start this time."
After a tough start, No. 3 Maple Grove was able to stay unbeaten in Northwest Suburban Conference play, defeating Centennial 3-0 on Saturday, Feb. 4 at the Centennial Sports Arena.
Maple Grove's Tony Paulson scored in the third and assisted on Jordan Gross' power play goal in the second period for a two-point game.
Gross opened the scoring with a bomb from the point that found its way past Centennial goalie, Brian Anderson, with just 11 seconds left in the game.
It was his 14th goal of the season.
Paulson made it 2-0 in the third, notching his 17th of the year, second best on the Crimson, behind Dylan Steman, who tallied an empty netter and also had an assist as well.
Kyle Koop stopped all 26 shots he faced for the shutout, while his counterpart was a bit more busy, more so with quality chances.
Anderson made 27 saves for the Cougars.
With the victory, the Crimson improve to 19-1-2 (14-0-1 Northwest Suburban) and will have a week off until its next game, which is scheduled for Feb. 11 at Elk River.
Centennial drops to 9-9-1 (8-4-1 Northwest Suburban) and will take on Andover on Wednesday, Feb. 8 at Andover Arena.
1. Tony Paulson, Maple Grove
With a bevy of scoring chances, Paulson finally solved Centennial goalie, Brian Anderson, in the third. He hit posts, and just about every inch of Anderson prior to scoring. Paulson was one of the few Crimson that came out strong, which was an overall slow start for Maple Grove. He also assisted on Jordan Gross' goal in the second, which got the Crimson heading in the right direction.
2. Jordan Gross, Maple Grove
An offensive-defenseman, Gross showed how important he is to the Crimson. His blast from the blue line gave Maple Grove a 1-0 lead and a huge momentum boost for a team that was having its issues getting going. He now has 14 goals on the season.
3. Kyle Koop, Maple Grove
Granted, not as busy as his opposition on the other end, Koop had to be strong out of the gates, because his teammates did not come out like the third-ranked team in the state. He had to be sharp from the start, because Centennial gave the Crimson all they could handle, but could not crack Koop.