DULUTH, Minn. — The Minnesota Gophers continue to make their Saturday nights extra special.
For the fifth straight week, Minnesota bounced back from a series-opening loss or tie to win the series finale. This time the victim was Minnesota-Duluth, as the Golden Gophers scored two third-period goals just 90 seconds apart to beat the Bulldogs 2-1 in front of a sellout crowd at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center.
The result followed Friday’s 5-2 UMD victory, and gave Minnesota a 5-0 record on Saturday nights since the 2002 portion of the schedule began, compared to an 0-4-1 record on Fridays.
The third-ranked Gophers (19-6-4, 11-6-3 WCHA) were propelled by Jeff Taffe, who scored the game winner on the power play; John Pohl, who posted a goal and an assist; and captain Jordan Leopold, who finished with two assists.
Adam Hauser was also strong between the pipes, stopping 31 Bulldog (11-18-1, 4-15-1 WCHA) shots.
Taffe’s goal was symbolic of the phrase “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Earlier in the night, he had two other chances hit the goalpost.
“It gets on you if you hit two pipes,” said Taffe, who shook off his frustration with his team-leading sixth game-winner of the year. “I think it was two shifts in a row, I thought one would have to go in sooner or later. I just got a chance and just put it away.”
His head coach also started to wonder if the posts symbolized a bad omen for the Gophers from the hockey gods.
I was thinking after the second (pipe) it was gonna be one of those nights,” said Minnesota mentor Don Lucia. “I really thought if we get one we’d be all right, but the guys kept digging and digging and digging, so we’re just grateful to be able to get the win.”
Jon Francisco scored Duluth’s lone goal. A busy Adam Coole took the loss in net, recording 42 saves.
Overall Minnesota outshot UMD by a 44-33 margin — although it didn’t come easy.
Several opportunities the Gophers had to take control earlier were disrupted by stellar goaltending by Coole or stingy play by the Bulldog defenders. Coming off Friday’s game, in which Minnesota was outplayed in every facet, the Gophers wasted little time in trying to get their offensive ship on course. Minnesota peppered the UMD net with 17 shots during the opening 20 minutes, but failed to get anything past Coole.
The netminder made several big saves to keep the Gophers from getting the early lead. He used a kick save to stop Paul Martings blast from the right point in the early minutes, and skated about seven feet in front of the cage to stone Dan Welch after the Gopher forward tried to relay a pass on a two-on-one toward the net.
UMD head coach Scott Sandelin called Coole’s play outstanding.
“I think he saw the puck, [and] we didn’t allow a lot of second and third chances,” said the second-year head coach. “What I liked is he was out, cutting down angles, controlling rebounds, and if there were rebounds our guys did a good job not allowing second and third shots.”
UMD also kept the Gopher special teams quiet for most of the night. After leaving Minnesota with zilch in the PPG box on seven chances in Friday’s game, UMD allowed only one Gopher shot in the visitors’ first man-advantage situation Saturday.
The first period ended scoreless, despite the Gophers dominating in shots on goal at 17-9.
UMD then seemed to take control at 6:13 of the second period, when it grabbed the game’s first lead. Mark Carlson fed Francisco at neutral ice, and the junior forward zipped across the Gopher blue line and darted a wrist shot that just slipped underneath Hauser, as the goaltender kneeled to try to make the save.
It would remain 1-0 through the end of the second 20 minutes, although both teams had golden opportunities. Taffe’s two post shots came in the final ten minutes of the period, the first struck the outside of the post to Coole’s right, while the other hit the inside of the same pipe and actually deflected behind the goaltender and out of the cage toward his left.
Taffe thought he had tied the game on that shot.
“I thought for sure, because I lost sight of it and then it bounced over to the side,” said the junior forward. “I was a little frustrated after that one.”
On the other end, Hauser had to make up for a star player’s gaffe as well as keep his team in the game. Duluth’s Judd Medak first stripped the puck from Hobey Baker Award candidate Leopold, and walked in all alone toward Hauser, only to see his wrist shot go straight into the goaltender’s midsection.
“That was a key save in the game,” said Lucia.
Sandelin agrees. “I think if Judd scores that goal at the end of the period, that might have been a backbreaker for ‘em.”
Finally Minnesota broke through midway through the final period. Pohl pounced on a rebound of a Leopold shot that hit Coole in the chest, and it was 1-1 at the 9:21 mark.
Then the Gophers were the beneficiary of an Andy Reierson penalty just 1:24 later, when the senior defenseman was called for hooking in the UMD zone. From there, it would take only six seconds for Minnesota to take the lead.
Taffe’s goal came moments after the ensuing faceoff. Pohl drew the puck back to Leopold, who fired a 60-foot shot that Coole knocked directly toward Taffe, who fired it in from the top of the right circle.
Not only was the goal Minnesota’s first on the power play in the series, it gave the Gophers their first lead of the entire weekend.
It stuck. UMD mounted additional pressure, and wouldn’t get any help from the referees. Many of the 5,405 in attendance thought the Bulldogs should have had some in the final minutes, after UM’s Keith Ballard tripped up Duluth’s Mark Carlson in the Gopher zone.
Coole ended up exiting his cage with 1:54 to go, but the sixth attacker didn’t add much to the Bulldog offense. Francisco had one last golden opportunity when he received the puck just at the edge of the goal crease, but failed to get a clean shot away. That turned out to be UMD’s only shot with the extra skater, as Minnesota closed out the 2-1 win.
Nonetheless, Sandelin liked his team’s output, as the Bulldogs finished a four-game homestand at 3-1. However, he appeared upset about how the game was officiated.
“Obviously, there’s disappointment when you lose, and you feel that pain,” said Sandelin. “But they competed and played as hard as they can, and I just think it’s frustrating when players themselves can’t decide the game.”
Sandelin said he was especially frustrated at the fact that referee Jon Campion whistled no penalties against Minnesota in the third period, while three were called against the Bulldogs.
“You cannot tell me in that third period that they did not have any penalties,” Sandelin said.
For the game, six fouls were called against Duluth, while four were whistled on the Gophers. UMD finished 0-for-2 on the power play, while Minnesota ended up 1-for-4.
Both teams go on the road next weekend. Minnesota will make its next stop at North Dakota, while UMD visits top-ranked Denver.