ST CLOUD, Minn. — For a majority of the 60 minutes Friday night at the National Hockey Center, it appeared that the St. Cloud State Huskies wanted nothing to do with the MacNaughton Cup.
The Huskies gave up three first-period goals and two in the opening minute of the second to Minnesota, burying themselves in a 5-1 hole before using a late second-period goal and two in the third to make a game out of it, starting a rally that fell just short as the Gophers escaped with a 5-4 win.
That loss, coupled with Denver’s 4-3 last-second win in overtime at North Dakota, means that the Cup will go west to the Pioneers. It also amounts to a first-round playoff matchup with upstart Minnesota-Duluth next weekend for the Huskies, who will go into the playoffs as the WCHA’s number-two seed.
“We made some early mistakes and that really cost us tonight,” said St. Cloud forward Jon Cullen. “It seems like when our backs are against the wall we play some good hockey but tonight we just fell to far behind.”
The mistakes that Cullen referred to came in the form of penalties. Minnesota scored three power-play goals on four chances with the extra man. The first came just 1:50 into the game when John Pohl spotted a wide-open Grant Potulny camped in front. Pohl centered the puck and Potulny finished, making it 1-0.
Then at 6:22 in, Troy Riddle and Nick Anthony used a good bounce to go in on Weasler 2-on-0. Anthony carried the puck into the zone before passing to Riddle, who scored to make it 2-0.
St. Cloud got on the board at the 15:48 mark of the period on a Mark Hartigan power-play goal, but Minnesota answered just 31 seconds later on a goal by Barry Tallackson.
“That third goal was really big,” said Gopher head coach Don Lucia. “We wanted to keep the crowd out of the game and just when they thought they were going to get into it, we scored.”
Minnesota opened the second period with a five-on-three advantage and it took the Gophers all of 19 seconds to capitalize. Jeff Taffe pounded home a feed from Pohl to make it 4-1. Then, on the same power play, Nick Angell’s blast from the point squeezed through Jake Moreland, who had replaced Weasler at the start of the period, and just like that it was 5-1.
“Those first couple minutes of the second period really hurt us,” said St. Cloud State head coach Craig Dahl, who witnessed his first opportunity to win the MacNaughton Cup fall just short. “I told the guys to just take it one goal at a time though and we were able to make a go at it.”
The Huskies started with just over five minutes to play in the second on a power-play goal from Cullen. They scored twice in the opening minutes of the third, the first on a breakaway goal my Matt Hendricks and the next coming when Hartigan swept home a rebound, but Minnesota closed the door after that.
“They are a good team, and when they get going they are tough to slow down,” said Jordan Leopold, who assisted on Taffe’s goal early in the second. “It was good we scored that fifth goal, though, because four wouldn’t have been enough.”
The Huskies, who were outshot 10-4 in that opening period, rebounded to outshoot Minnesota 30-29 on the night. The nation’s top power play had a pair of goals on six chances.
“We gave them too many chances but we survived,” said Lucia. “We’ll take it.”