ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Sam Warning entered Saturday’s game at St. Cloud State with just three goals on the season. He hadn’t scored since late October.
He added a crucial fourth tally against the Huskies this weekend to seal the Gophers’ first sweep since early December.
Warning shelved the game-winning goal with less than two minutes remaining and led No. 3 Minnesota (19-9-1, 15-5-0 WCHA), to a 3-2 road victory Saturday in St. Cloud.
“It’s been a long time so it felt pretty sweet, but I thought the two points was bigger than the goal,” Warning said.
Warning has been in and out of the lineup this season and was a healthy scratch just last weekend against Colorado College. His play against the Huskies may have solidified his spot in the lineup.
“He’s a good player, but at times he’s lacked confidence,” Minnesota’s head coach Don Lucia said. “I thought Haula’s line was our best line all weekend long. It was only fitting in some ways that Sam got the game-winner.”
Warning, Erik Haula and Jake Hansen make up the second line — a line that imposed its will in the series.
Haula, Hansen and Warning accounted for six points and all three broke out of their goal-scoring slumps over the weekend.
“We need [Haula’s] line to play like they did tonight — it just makes our team so much better,” Lucia said Saturday. “They were our best line last night, and they were probably our best line tonight.”
Hansen got Minnesota going early Friday and scored to open the first period to give the team a 1-0 lead.
Ben Hanowski answered in the second period and did what the Gophers have been unable to do on the power play in recent weeks — score. The Gophers were 0-for-3 with the man advantage Friday.
Despite the ineptitude on the power play, the Gophers retook the lead in the second period and never looked back.
Hansen raced into the zone and set up Nick Bjugstad to give the Gophers a 2-1 lead they never relinquished.
“It was a backdoor tap in,” Bjugstad said. “It was wide open for me, and I almost missed it. I knew it was coming … and luckily it went in.”
SCSU recorded only one shot in the third period, which made any hopes of a comeback nearly impossible.
Minnesota was in the passing and shooting lanes all night and blocked 13 shots in total.
“We didn’t get many shots, but I thought the key was all the shots they blocked,” SCSU head coach Bob Motzko said. “They went into the lane with a purpose.”
The Gophers replicated that defensive mentality Saturday and drastically outshot the Huskies 46-12 en route to a 3-2 victory.
Ryan Faragher recorded more than 40 saves for the fourth time this season, but it wasn’t enough.
Despite the Huskies’ abysmal 25 shots in the series, Hanowski scored efficiently and netted a goal midway through the first period Saturday to take a 1-0 lead.
The Gophers finally broke through on the power play in the second period after a nearly month-long struggle. They went 2-for-2 on the power play in the period — Ben Marshall and Haula both scored to give Minnesota a 2-1 lead.
“Obviously, we caught St. Cloud at a good time when they had some injuries but to our kids’ credit, we took advantage of it, and I thought we played a really good game tonight throughout our lineup,” Lucia said Saturday.
Haula’s goal came on a feed from Nate Schmidt and Kyle Rau and silenced the announced crowd of 6,102.
Hanowski soon got the crowd back into it.
He was the only player on the Huskies’ roster to score in the series and evened the score at 2-2.
Hanowski put a puck on net from a near-impossible angle, but it deflected off the side of the net and Kent Patterson’s stick and into the net.
Similar to Friday night, SCSU struggled to put the puck on net in the third period.
The Huskies’ recorded only three shots in the final frame, but Faragher’s stellar play kept the game tied.
Warning, however, would not be denied on his team-leading seventh shot of the game.
“I give all the credit to Justin Holl,” Warning said. “He made a good pass to me backdoor and all I had to do was put it in the back of the net.
“It wasn’t going my way there for a little bit, but I kept in there and hung on and ended up getting one at the end of the game.”
SCSU (10-14-4, 7-10-3 WCHA) nearly tied it after it pulled Faragher to gain the extra attacker but hit the post in the waning seconds.
Minnesota-Duluth did not win a game over the weekend, and the Gophers opened up a five-point lead in the WCHA with the series sweep.
“I’ve said it,” Lucia said. “Let’s just worry about ourselves.”
Minnesota will have next weekend off before traveling to Denver in two weeks.