After a tough loss to Wisconsin on Sunday in the WCHA Final Faceoff championship game, Minnesota responded by clinching a trip to the Frozen Four with the help of its second line.
No. 2 Minnesota (31-5-1) defeated No. 7 Princeton (20-8-5) 5-2 on Saturday at Ridder Arena, clinching a berth in the Frozen Four for the first time since 2017. Since the program began in 1997, the Gophers have not lost to the Tigers. The "Pots and Pan" line of center Kelly Pannek, left winger Sarah Potomak and right winger Amy Potomak combined for nine points and scored four of Minnesota's five goals. Goaltender Sydney Scobee made 24 saves, winning her 12th game of the season.
"We're thrilled to be heading to the Frozen Four," head coach Brad Frost said. "These quarterfinal games are always tough. We're proud of our group."
For the fourth consecutive game, Minnesota conceded the game's first goal. Princeton center Sarah Fillier opened the scoring at 5:26 of the first period. Fillier redirected a pass from left winger Maggie Connors past Scobee into the top right-hand corner of the net. It was Fillier's 21st goal of the season.
Princeton didn't have the lead for long thanks to the Potomak sisters. Sarah Potomak tied the game at 7:12 of the first period, squeezing a shot past Tigers goaltender Stephanie Neatby. It was her ninth goal of the season. Then at 18:05 of the period, Amy Potomak deposited a rebound past Neatby after the goaltender denied Pannek. It was her 11th goal of the season.
Sarah Potomak said playing with Pannek and her younger sister is special.
"It's been a tough year for all of us," she said. "Coming back from an Olympic year, you don't realize how tough it is. But I'm proud of all of our growth we've been through this year."
In the second period, Fillier tied the game for Princeton, rifling a shot past Scobee from the slot at 2:43 of the period.
Only one penalty was called on Saturday, and it went against the Gophers. Pannek was called for hooking at the 1:38 mark of the third period. The Gophers killed the penalty, allowing one shot.
"We did a great job with our forecheck," Frost said. "We didn't give them a lot of zone time. The players were blocking shots. This time of year, the desperation level's high. They earned it tonight."
When the Gophers needed a hero in the third, their captain delivered. Pannek scored her 16th goal of the season at 11:47 of the period, giving the Gophers a 3-2 lead. The puck deflected off Pannek's skate and wound up in the net. The goal was reviewed, but the call on the ice was confirmed.
Pannek said she didn't try to kick the puck.
"It hit my foot, but I was nervous that they [the referees] would call it back," Pannek said. "I was fortunate to be there."
Princeton pulled Neatby with 1:50 to play in regulation. After Scobee and defender Olivia Knowles made desperation saves to preserve Minnesota's lead, Sarah Potomak gave the Gophers insurance with an empty-net goal at 18:54 of the third before left winger Nicole Schammel scored another empty-net goal with 14 seconds remaining.
Frost said Scobee stood tall for Minnesota late in the game.
"Scobee made a great save. It trickled wide, but [that's] the game of inches that happen in hockey. We were on the right side of it."
Minnesota will face No. 6 Cornell (24-5-6) in the Frozen Four semifinal this Friday at People's United Center in Hamden, Connecticut. The winner will face either No. 1 Wisconsin (32-4-2) or No. 4 Clarkson (30-7-2) in the 2019 NCAA championship game.
Pannek said she wants her teammates to savor every moment on the East Coast.
"It's a fun experience regardless of how it turns out," Pannek said. "We've been fortunate enough to have many people in this program be a part of it. I'm looking forward to [seeing] the awe in their faces when there's these cool things that happen being in that moment but reminding them that it's still hockey. It's still the game. We're still the same team."