When Nico Sacchetti scored to make it 3-2 midway through the third period Saturday, it looked like the Gophers would fend off Denver and avoid being swept for the first time this season.
But Denver’s Nick Shore showed up to crash the party.
Shore handled an excellent backhanded pass from his older brother, Drew Shore, and netted the game-tying goal with 1:26 remaining to force overtime.
Nick Shore followed up his late-game effort with a game-winning goal 17 seconds into overtime and pulled the Pioneers within two points of the WCHA lead.
No. 14 Denver (17-9-4, 12-6-4 WCHA) has now won 10 of its last 12 meetings with No. 2 Minnesota (19-11-1, 15-7-0 WCHA).
“We had the lead entering the third period, and we went from being on the power play to being a man down — 4-on-3, and they converted,” assistant head coach Mike Guentzel said Saturday. “It gave them an opportunity to get the crowd in the game.
“We have to do a better job exercising some discipline.”
Denver went 3-for-10 on the power play over the weekend to propel itself to a sweep.
Nate Condon got the Gophers going Friday with an unassisted goal at 9:08 in the first period to take a 1-0 lead.
That lead was short-lived, as Shawn Ostrow netted the equalizer 40 seconds later. Denver took the lead three minutes later and never looked back.
Condon had a breakaway chance after the second goal, but he could not convert.
“I poked it free, and if I score that there it’s a 2-2 game — it’s a different game,” Condon said. “It’s too bad I missed that second one.”
Nate Dewhurst scored to make it 3-1 late in the first period, but Kyle Rau converted on a power play early in the second to pull the Gophers within one.
Jason Zucker struck back with a power-play goal of his own soon after that gave the Pioneers a lead they never relinquished.
“I thought we were much too loose tonight,” head coach Don Lucia said Friday. “We put ourselves shorthanded too much in the first two periods.”
Nearly three minutes after the Pioneers stretched the lead to 4-2, Rau laid out Zucker and was given a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct. Zucker lay motionless on the ice and did not return to the game after the hit.
Rau was later given a one-game suspension and missed Saturday’s game.
Chris Knowlton and Zach Budish capped the scoring and the game ended at 5-3.
“We didn’t have too much crispness to our game tonight,” Lucia said. “Denver was a better team tonight, and they deserved to win.”
Minnesota was the better team Saturday but could not hold on for a split.
Erik Haula wasted no time and gave the Gophers a 1-0 lead 38 seconds into the game, and Zach Budish stretched the lead to 2-0 on the power play at 15:17 in the second period.
The Gophers were in control of the game, but Knowlton scored before the end of the period to get the sellout crowd of 6,079 back into it.
Minnesota was plagued by Denver’s quick strikes all weekend.
“If you go out there and slack off after a goal because you think you’re ahead, they’re going to take it to you,” Condon said. Denver did just that.
The Gophers went on the power play early in the third, but two ill-timed penalties gave the Pioneers a man advantage. Luke Salazar converted on the power play to tie the game at 2-2.
“[We made] a couple mental mistakes there in the third … and that will cost you,” Budish said, who took a costly roughing penalty that gave Denver a 4-on-3 power play prior to Salazar’s goal. “We were playing pretty well there … and then we got a penalty, and they capitalized on it.”
Minnesota had a chance to take Denver out of the equation in the WCHA race this weekend but instead let the Pioneers right back in.
A sweep would have essentially eliminated Denver from the quest for the McNaughton Cup.
The Gophers hold a one-point lead over Minnesota-Duluth and a two-point lead over Denver in the WCHA.
“Our guys realize the fight they’re in right now,” Guentzel said. “We’re down to the final six conference games, and we’re leading the league by a point.
“Our job is to prepare Monday to be the best team in the conference for three weeks, and if we do that, we’ll win the league. If we don’t, someone else will.”