DULUTH, Minn. — St. Cloud State faced do-or-die Saturday night in its Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoff series with Minnesota Duluth before 4,420 at the DECC. In fact, it was do-or-die times two.
The Huskies, who lost Friday, not only needed a victory to keep alive their WCHA playoff hopes, more importantly their hopes for an NCAA tournament berth.
St. Cloud State came into the game No. 17 in the PairWise Rankings, which mimic the Division I selection process; only 16 teams qualify for the expanded 2003 field. Yet another loss would’ve ruined any chance for a fourth straight trip to the NCAAs.
A determined team got a good bounce and took advantage as St. Cloud State winger Mike Doyle scored at 4:00 of overtime for a 3-2 victory to extend the series to a final game at 6:05 p.m. Sunday. It was St. Cloud State’s first lead in the series.
“We definitely played with the intensity and urgency that we knew we had to,” said Doyle. “We had a quiet confidence before the game; we weren’t overly tense. Basically we said, ‘Go to work.’”
The Huskies (17-14-5) moved up four spots to a tie for No. 13 in the rankings with the win. UMD (19-14-5) won the opening game 5-4 and led 1-0 and 2-1 Saturday, but didn’t score in the final 45 minutes and was outshot 40-28.
Matt Hendricks of St. Cloud State scored the only goal of the second period to tie the game, followed by a scoreless third period, thanks in large part to UMD senior goalie Rob Anderson. He finished with 37 saves.
In overtime, sophomore defenseman Nate Wright punched a shot into the offensive zone off the Plexiglas and the puck caromed directly to Ryan Malone for a 2-on-1 situation. He backhanded a pass onto Doyle’s stick blade and Doyle shot from in close putting the puck high off the left post by Anderson. It was Doyle’s sixth goal of the season and Wright’s first collegiate point.
“We knew it was desperation hockey for St. Cloud and now it will be that way for both of us,” said UMD scoring leader Tim Stapleton, who had a shorthanded goal. “We have to look at it like Sunday is a whole new day.”
The teams are 3-3 in six games this season with four games decided by a goal.
UMD, 8-3-1 the past 12 games, is seeking its first trip to the WCHA Final Five since 1998. The Bulldogs seemed headed in that direction in the first period. The power play, which has been ineffective much of the season, has caught fire recently and led to the game’s first goal.
It took just eight seconds of the man advantage, when winger Nick Anderson came from behind the St. Cloud State net and put a shot on net from deep in the zone. Goalie Jake Moreland made the save, but T.J. Caig was at the crease for an open-net score with 8:03 left. It was his eighth goal of the season and the sixth straight game the Bulldogs converted on a power play.
A nice passing play, in a 3-on-2 shift, tied the game 1-1 for the Huskies. Center Peter Szabo connected on a backhand shot from in close with 2:36 left in the opening period.
Ninety-two seconds later, with 1:04 to go, Stapleton went on a solo shorthanded rush for a 2-1 lead. He came in on left wing, cut to the center, and despite being defended from behind beat Moreland just inside the left pipe. The unassisted score was his 12th goal and 39th point of the season. The last UMD freshman to have more points in a season was Brett Hull in 1984-85 with 60.
St. Cloud State was at its best in the second and third periods, outshooting UMD 24-12 and scoring a goal.
“St. Cloud came out and battled, and battled, and battled,” said UMD goalie Anderson. “I knew that if we weren’t as excited as they were, it wouldn’t work for us. I thought we matched them. It was a war.”
Hendricks made good on a long-distance shot from the left circle with 2:43 left in the second period. Anderson spent much of the period keeping UMD in the game with his toughest stops coming from point-blank range on shots by wingers Jonathan Lehun, Doyle and Dave Iannazzo in the first 10 minutes.
Things got rough as the period ended when St. Cloud State’s Malone was called for crosschecking UMD’s Junior Lessard along the boards. Then, as goalie Anderson was heading to UMD’s bench, he got tangled up with St. Cloud State center Joe Jensen. Anderson was called for roughing and Jensen for being an instigator.
“When you’re facing the end of your season it’s pretty simple, we just wanted to win. But for a while I didn’t know if we’d get rewarded for our work,” said St. Cloud State coach Craig Dahl.
In a scoreless third period, UMD helped itself by killing two power plays. The Huskies also had to skate shorthanded for two minutes with 3:15 to play when Iannazzo was called for hooking Stapleton. The Bulldogs called a timeout to set strategy, yet couldn’t convert.
The best scoring chance of the third period came from Malone as he hit the left pipe at 9:00.
“This was just like the battles we’ve had all season,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “They took it to us in the second period, we got a little better in the third, and started with some chances in overtime.
“Friday, maybe we got some bounces, and tonight they got one and capitalized. That’s one of the better goals you’ll see in overtime.”
That means UMD has a final home game at the DECC Sunday with few fans expecting other than a one-goal outcome.