In a battle between first place and last place in the WCHA, at times it was hard to tell which team was which over the weekend.
No. 5 Minnesota (13-4-1, 10-2-0 WCHA) got out to a quick start Friday night, but struggled to maintain intensity and was plagued by a penalty-ridden game Saturday.
Amidst the various obstacles, the Gophers swept Minnesota State to complete their first sweep in nearly a month.
Minnesota won 4-2 Friday and followed up with a 3-2 win Saturday.
“Yesterday we came out kind of flat, and we knew we got away with one,” Gophers forward Seth Ambroz said Saturday. “I felt like throughout the game [tonight] we did match their intensity.”
The Gophers got out to the early start they were looking for Friday when Taylor Matson netted his fourth goal of the season less than two minutes into the game.
Despite the early one-goal lead, the poor rush defense from the series with Michigan State seemed to carry over to this weekend and culminated with an Evan Mosey goal that tied the game.
Mosey controlled the puck off a long rush and fired a lazy shot from just inside the blue line that beat Kent Patterson stick side.
That goal seemed to suck the life out of the Minnesota attack for the remainder of the period.
“I think they tried to slow us down a little bit — that was kind of their game plan,” Nick Larson said. “We’re at our best when we’re skating hard and skating fast and making plays, and we were able to get back to that in the third period.”
Larson helped the Gophers regain the lead and momentum in the second period when he snuck in his second goal of the season just inside the right post.
The goal got the home crowd back into it, but again MNSU refused to go away.
During a scrum in the crease which saw nearly half the players on the ice piled atop Patterson, Jean-Paul Lafontaine controlled the puck and flipped it over the bedlam to tie the game at 2-2 heading into the third.
Minnesota was not fazed entering the third.
Erik Haula broke the tie early third period off a one-timer on a Gophers’ power play.
“We’re a good third period team, and we usually come out strong in the third period so we didn’t have any doubt in our mind that we wouldn’t win the game,” Haula said.
It was his second goal in as many games after having gone without a goal since Oct. 28.
MNSU pulled Lee to gain an extra attacker late in the game, but Jake Hansen netted an empty-net goal to set the final score at 4-2.
“It’s finding a way to win some nights, and at the end of the year these are important points because they easily could have won the game tonight,” head coach Don Lucia said Friday.
The Gophers replicated Friday’s fast start with a goal less than three minutes into the game Saturday.
They maintained that strong attack throughout the first period and stretched their lead to three by the end of the frame.
Ambroz put the Gophers on the board 2:37 into the game when he redirected a Zach Budish shot in for his third goal of the season.
There was an added intensity from both teams following Ambroz’s goal and the referees had to work to maintain control of the game.
In whole, the Gophers were called for six penalties in the first period and the Mavericks took five. Minnesota was called for 13 total penalties on the night.
“I think we had a lot more jump in our step tonight,” Matson said Saturday. “It’s just a result of wanting it more tonight and playing with intensity.”
Matson and Kyle Rau both housed goals to add to Minnesota’s lead.
Rau’s goal was the last goal the Gophers scored on the night, but proved to be the difference.
In the second, MNSU’s Zach Lehrke netted a power-play goal to cut the deficit to one.
Rau had a prime opportunity to lengthen the lead in the second, but his shot went off both posts, and goaltender Austin Lee was able to keep the puck out.
Lee played exceptionally well to keep MNSU (3-12-1, 2-9-1 WCHA) in the game during the second period.
He finished with 37 saves on the night and did not allow a goal after the three-goal first period.
Lehrke added another power-play goal to narrow the gap to one and keep MNSU’s hope alive.
The Mavericks pulled Lee with less than a minute remaining and took a late timeout in attempt to net the equalizer, but came up short, and the Gophers escaped with a 3-2 victory.
“We couldn’t build on that lead, and they kind of climbed themselves back in the game, but the bottom line is we have two more wins at home and they’re important wins for us,” Lucia said.
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