LEWISTON – Niagara rallied. The Purple Eagles weren't going to roll over for anyone, especially on home ice.
But the rally was too late and the penalty kill of Air Force too good and the Falcons earned a 4-2 win at Dwyer Arena.
The Falcons, who were the pre-season favorite to win the conference, picked up their fourth win in their last five games, improving to 7-9-2 in Atlantic Hockey.
Niagara, meanwhile, continued to slide in the standings, falling to 10-9-2 in the conference and four points behind first-place Canisius.
Scoreless first: There were plenty of chances for both sides. Niagara had a 5-on-3 power play but couldn't convert. Meanwhile, Purple Eagles' goalie Brian Wilson stopped nine shots in the opening frame, several which were impressive including a nifty glove save on an Air Force power play.
Out of the box: Niagara had lots of pep to start the second and earned an early power play. The Purple Eagles had several great opportunities and had generated lots of momentum and energy, but couldn't convert. As Evan Giesler came out of the penalty box, he picked up the puck for a breakaway. Wilson made the save but the loose puck bounced off a Niagara defender in front of the net and Air Force took a 1-0 lead at 4:08 of the second.
Up 2-0: Air Force increased its lead when Brady Tomlak gloved down a wide shot and poked it past Wilson. The officials reviewed the play to see if the puck crossed the line because of Tomlak's glove or stick. They ruled stick. The goal was good. And the Falcons had a two-goal lead at 12:55 of the second.
On the board: Sean King got the Purple Eagles on the board at 8:52 of the third with a wrap-around move and a shot from the stick-side of Air Force goalie Billy Christopoulos.
Two-goal lead: The Falcons regained their two-goal lead with a power-play goal from Walker Sommer with 8:11 left in the third.
Finding the power: Niagara went 0 for 7 on the power play until Noah Delmas put in a rebound with 7:31 left in the third period. The Falcons had killed off 20 straight power plays before Delmas' goal. Last season, the Falcons had the best penalty kill unit in the nation.
Empty-netter: Air Force secured the win with an empty net goal from Kyle Haak with 1:32 left in the game.
Scratches: Niagara scratched Larry Smith, James Roll, Christian Cakebread, Sam Rennaker, Tanner Lomsnes, Zach Mills, and David Krejcik.
Missing again: Tanner Lomsnes missed his fifth straight game with a lower body injury. The junior forward suffered the injury in a 3-1 loss to Robert Morris on Jan. 9. Lomsnes was a huge cog in the Niagara offense, still ranking second on the team with 13 goals.
Back in action: Air Force had its last game, a Jan. 20 game scheduled against Sacred Heart, postponed due to the government shutdown.
Up next: The teams conclude their series at 7:05 p.m. Saturday in Dwyer Arena. Niagara then travels to face Army West Point Feb. 2-3. The Purple Eagles return home to host Sacred Heart Feb. 9-10 and finishes the regular season with a home-and-home series against Canisius Feb. 23-24.