MINNEAPOLIS — Maybe the WCHA should consider adding a fourth period in regulation. It might be the only way for Minnesota and Minnesota State to reach a definitive conclusion.
Saturday afternoon, the Gophers and Mavericks played to a 4-4 draw after both teams rallied from third-period deficits. Down 4-3 and with netminder Jason Jensen off the ice, Minnesota State got the game-tying goal with 26 seconds left, off the stick of Jeff Marler.
The freshman, parked in the slot, banked a pass from Shane Joseph off the right post to send the teams to a second straight tie. The result prolonged the Mavericks’ unbeaten streak to 11 games, the program’s best in over a decade.
“I just put everything into it, top corner, and it went in,” said Marler.
“It’s still not great, but we played a little bit better,” said MSU head coach Troy Jutting, whose Mavericks (10-7-9, 8-5-7 WCHA) came away with two points despite being outplayed for most of the weekend.
For the 12th time this year, the Mavericks went past 60 minutes; the Gophers have now played eight OT games. Neither team has lost a game in extra time.
“Some nights are good ties and some nights [aren't],” Jutting added. “This weekend, I thought we had to battle to get both ties.”
No tie would have been possible, though, if not for Jensen, who stopped 43 of 47 Minnesota shots, including a passel in the first two periods to keep the Mavericks close. The Gophers outshot the Mavericks 47-30, including 31-11 in the first 40 minutes of play.
“It was a good weekend,” said the laconic Jensen. “Any time you can get two points out of here, it’s a bonus. … We’d obviously like more — we’d like to get wins, but we’re playing good teams.”
The Gophers (12-6-7, 7-4-5 WCHA), meanwhile, watched a win slip away after scoring twice in the third to overcome a 3-2 Maverick lead. Jake Fleming gave Minnesota a 4-3 lead at 14:11, which looked for five-plus minutes like it would stand up.
“We hadn’t gotten the breaks all weekend,” said Fleming, “and when we got that lead goal I thought we were going to be able to hold on.”
“We don’t have a very large margin for error,” said coach Don Lucia. “We don’t have that talent that we had last year, where we can take over games.”
As on Friday, Minnesota came out firing, and Thomas Vanek put the Gophers up at 4:28 of the first. Stealing the puck at the Maverick blue line, Vanek circled the net and tucked away a wraparound to Jensen’s right for his 19th goal of the season.
But a crosscheck by Matt DeMarchi in front of the Minnesota State net put the Mavericks up a man, and Grant Stevenson converted for his 18th goal of the year at 15:32.
Taking the pass from Steven Johns, Stevenson maneuvered to the top of the left circle and unleashed a wrister that beat a screened Travis Weber (26 saves) inside the left post.
After a slash on Matt Paluczak — committed against DeMarchi, driving through the zone — Tyler Hirsch put the Gophers back on top, wristing a shot just under the crossbar from a hard, hard angle at 17:35.
“I gave him that to shoot at, and he took it,” said Jensen, who had the near post covered low.
The first period ended 2-1 Minnesota, and could have been much worse for the Mavericks if not for Jensen, who stopped several more grade-A scoring chances among the Gophers’ 20 shots on goal.
Jensen got some help early in the second, as Hirsch, standing in nearly the same spot as before, rang another low-angle shot off the crossbar on the power play.
Tempers flared late in the period, and a slash by DeMarchi gave the Mavericks a four-on-three power play.
On the advantage, Stevenson sent the puck down low to Cole Bassett, who converted with an unlikely assist. Gopher defenseman Paul Martin, sliding into position alongside the crease, accidentally deflected the junior’s wrister into the net with his stick.
Sophomore Brad Thompson went solo to give the Mavericks their first lead of the game, splitting two Minnesota defenders at the blue line, fighting off a poke-check and beating Weber one-on-one to his blocker side at 6:43.
But a whistle on Johns followed immediately, and just after the expiration of the penalty, Ballard sent the puck toward the net from the left point. It changed direction off Thompson’s stick on the way to the net, bouncing past Jensen to knot the game at 3.
“[Thompson] was trying to clear it, and the puck went up off his stick,” said Jutting. “Jensen didn’t really have a shot at it.”
Then came Fleming’s goal. A lead pass from Andy Sertich found Jon Waibel, who sent the puck across for Fleming, trailing the play. The sophomore’s wrist shot from the high slot was his fifth goal.
The Mavericks pulled Jensen for a sixth attacker at 18:54, and seconds later Gopher captain Grant Potulny had a shot on the empty net from just inside the red line. But Potulny — in just his second game back from injury — watched as his shot went a foot wide, leaving the door open.
“If Grant had been playing all year, maybe he hits that,” said Lucia.
Seconds in, Bassett nearly won it on a two-on-one, but Weber got a glove on his wrister. The Gophers then got their chance with a power play after a B.J. Abel high-stick, but could not score.
Special teams were critical, with the Mavericks scoring a weekend total of four power-play goals on nine chances, to the Gophers’ 1-for-13.
“That’s a big difference,” said Jutting, whose team has killed 38 of 40 penalties in its last nine games.
Next up for Minnesota is the long trip to visit Alaska-Anchorage for a pair. Minnesota State hosts Minnesota-Duluth for two next weekend.