No. 4 Minnesota is back on top — at least for the time being.
The Gophers (17-9-1, 13-5-0 WCHA) beat No. 11 Colorado College 2-1 on Saturday to escape with a series split and regain sole possession of first place in the WCHA.
Minnesota-Duluth faced nonconference foe Alabama-Huntsville this weekend, so it could not add points in the WCHA standings. UMD is two points behind the Gophers in second place.
Colorado College (14-9-1, 11-7-0 WCHA) now trails the Gophers by four points in the league.
“I thought our penalty kill was a big part of the weekend,” head coach Don Lucia said Saturday. “[Colorado College] had the number one power play in the league. Our penalty kill did a really good job.”
Anything less may have cost Minnesota, which struggled with its own power play throughout the series.
The Gophers went 0-for-7 on the power play against the Tigers and are now 3-for-19 with the man advantage since the start of 2012.
Minnesota lost a heartbreaker in the opening game of the series as Nick Bjugstad tied the game with 1:13 seconds left, only to be outshined by Colorado College senior Tim Hall 41 seconds later.
“I’ve never had a loss like this,” Bjugstad said, noticeably frustrated after Friday’s 2-1 loss. “It’s pretty tough. Obviously this is a good team. It’s a team we want to beat in the standings, so it’s pretty disappointing.”
The Tigers opened up the scoring in the second period after a turnover left team captain Nick Dineen alone with Kent Patterson in the Gophers’ zone.
Dineen made one move and beat Patterson five-hole to give Colorado College the 1-0 lead.
With his team down a goal, Gophers forward Kyle Rau used a five-minute stretch in the second period to provide his team with a spark.
Rau, the 5-foot-8 freshman, ignited the crowd with an earth-shattering check that put Archie Skalbeck flat on his back. On that same shift, Rau hit the crossbar with a wrist shot from the point.
He wasn’t done.
One shift later, he sacrificed his body and sprawled out to block a slap shot from the blue line.
Rau drove two more Colorado College players into the boards before shifting off the ice.
“That’s Kyle,” Lucia said. “That’s how Kyle competes. That’s how he plays … and that’s why he’s had the kind of success he’s had throughout his career.”
Lucia has called Rau “fearless” on multiple occasions this season, and it was never more evident than Friday night.
Despite Rau’s electrifying play, his team still trailed by one entering the third period.
In the third period, Skalbeck tried to exact revenge on Rau from the earlier hit but did so with Rau’s back turned.
Rau went flying headfirst into the boards, and Skalbeck was ejected for checking from behind.
The Gophers started a five-minute power play with a chance to get back in the game but could not generate any sort of rhythm.
It was the third weekend in a row that Minnesota has received a five-minute power play, and it has failed to score on the extended man advantage in each of them.
“That was a good opportunity to put us back in the game, and we didn’t really capitalize on that,” Bjugstad said.
Bjugstad was able to net the game-tying goal with traffic in front of the net, but that led way to Hall’s game-winning heroics.
Hall put the Tigers up for good with 36 seconds left, much to the chagrin of the announced crowd of 10,007.
Minnesota did a sufficient job bottling up the brother tandem of Rylan and Jaden Schwartz in a losing effort Friday but could not keep them off the board Saturday.
Late in the first period, Jaden Schwartz beat Patterson with a snap shot from just outside the crease to put the Tigers up 1-0.
Neither team generated many scoring opportunities in the first period, combining for 12 shots total.
The Gophers, however, used a penalty kill to spark their best offensive looks of the period.
Minnesota’s penalty kill unit limited the Tigers all weekend, but keeping them off the board was not good enough for Nate Condon.
Still on the penalty kill, Condon took a feed from Taylor Matson and blistered his ninth goal of the season past Josh Thorimbert to make it 1-1. It was also his fourth shorthanded goal of the season.
Three minutes into the second period, David Civitarese charged Patterson in an attempt to play the puck, and Patterson went down in obvious pain.
Patterson finished the game and afterward said his bicep got pinched between the pipe.
Patterson also credited his defense for its play in the series.
“It was kind of a mirror image of how we were playing at the beginning of the year,” Patterson said. “They were able to let me make the first save. They were even making the first save some of the time.”
Minnesota could not capitalize with Civitarese in the box, but just seconds after the power play expired, Nico Sacchetti made it 2-1 with his first goal of the season.
“It’s tough to see Nick Larson go down … but we have a deep team,” Sacchetti said, referring to a wrist injury that kept the senior forward on the bench over the weekend. “It just opens up opportunities, and I’m just happy and trying to make something of mine.”
Sacchetti’s goal proved to be the difference.
“I’m happy for Nico,” Lucia said. “I’m sure he wants to play more, but a game like he played tonight — he deserves to play more, so he’ll get rewarded next week.”