MINNEAPOLIS — Once again, Minnesota took a one-goal lead into the third period. This time the Gophers kept it.
On goals from Danny Irmen and Matt Koalska, Minnesota carried a 2-1 edge into the second intermission Saturday. And unlike Friday — when North Dakota rallied to win with three third-period goals — the Gopher defense clamped down, keeping the Sioux off the scoreboard and earning a split before a sellout crowd of 10,308 at Mariucci Arena.
The rematch was an appropriate sequel to the spirited opener, which had plenty of thrills of its own.
“It was just a great, great hockey game,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “The fans got their money’s worth. I don’t think anyone’s asking for a refund after this.”
The Gophers limited UND to a season-low 14 shots on goal, including only three in the third period, to make Koalska’s ninth goal of the year stand up as the game winner.
With the score tied at 1 late in the second, Troy Riddle fired the puck from behind the Sioux net to a streaking Koalska. His slapshot beat fallen netminder Jordan Parise up high, giving Minnesota a 2-1 advantage at 16:36.
But fitting for a hotly-contested series, the finish wasn’t without controversy.
With Parise off for an extra skater, North Dakota appeared to tie the game with 14.4 seconds left. Brady Murray’s slapshot from the high slot beat Kellen Briggs cleanly to the glove side, but referee Derek Shepherd unhesitatingly waved the goal off due to a high stick by Zach Parise.
Parise — who mistakenly believed that he had played the puck at waist level — was livid with the call, but television replays showed that the puck had been head-high when Parise deflected it toward Murray.
“The referee was in position … and he said it was a high stick, so you can’t argue with him,” said UND coach Dean Blais, who complimented Saturday’s officiating overall. “I just told him, ‘You’d better be right.’”
Some confusion also surrounded a rule interpretation, as the puck appeared to bounce off a Minnesota player before reaching Murray. But NCAA Rule 6-19-a states that control of the puck, not merely contact, is required to nullify a high stick, implying that Murray’s shot was correctly blown dead.
“You have to have possession. That’s the rule,” said Lucia, who earned his 400th win as a head coach.
The stunning finish almost overshadowed a sterling defensive effort from Minnesota, which has had trouble protecting leads all season long. The Gophers controlled play for most of the last 40 minutes of the game, keeping North Dakota’s scoring chances to a minimum and the Sioux’s talented forwards away from the puck.
“Minnesota had the puck most of the time, and they wouldn’t let us get it,” quipped Blais. “We got outplayed at times … once they got the momentum, it was hard to get it back.”
On the heels of Friday’s 1-for-7 effort, the Gopher power play struggled early. Five minutes into the game, Parise nearly scored shorthanded when Briggs left the net to play the puck, which skittered in front, giving Parise an open net. Briggs managed to dive in front of his shot and save the sure goal.
The Minnesota power play finished the game 0-for-5, marking the first time in 12 games that the Gophers did not score on the man-advantage.
Minutes later Friday’s hero, Chris Porter, had a chance to put the Sioux ahead on a partial breakaway, but Briggs made a toe stop to keep the game scoreless.
UND went on top at 10:05. Skating four-on-four, David Lundbohm took a breakout pass from Murray and beat Briggs one-on-one to the glove side. The goal was Lundbohm’s sixth of the season.
It was then Minnesota’s turn to stiffen on the penalty-kill, stopping two Sioux power plays to hold the UND lead to one. Shots on goal in the first period favored North Dakota, 7-5, and none of Minnesota’s chances came from the Grade-A scoring area.
But the momentum reversed in the second period. The Gophers struck quickly, knotting it up at 3:08 on a strange second-chance goal.
Jake Fleming, operating behind the Sioux net, hit Danny Irmen skating across the high slot, and Irmen fanned on his one-timer — then recovered to swat the puck past the blocker side of Parise, who had moved to his left in response to Irmen’s original attempt.
“The puck came out of the corner, and it bounced on me,” said Irmen. “It just ended up in the right place.
“Sometimes you need those bounces.”
Irmen had a chance to put Minnesota ahead at the six-minute mark, but Thomas Vanek’s pass was just behind him, giving Parise time to sprawl out and stop Irmen’s stuff attempt.
Ten minutes of breakneck hockey ensued, until Koalska untied the game for Minnesota — though given the firepower on the ice, few expected two goals would be enough to win.
“We won the game by how well we played defensively,” said Lucia. “It takes a team effort.”
Blais, meanwhile, was philosophical about the loss.
“Certainly, when No. 1 and [No. 5] get together, you can’t be unhappy with a split,” he said.
The loss — which ended the Sioux’s 14-game unbeaten streak, two shy of the school record — left North Dakota (18-3-2, 12-2-2 WCHA) and Minnesota-Duluth tied for the WCHA lead, though the Sioux have two games in hand.
Minnesota (14-9-2, 9-8-1) remained alone in fifth, as the Gophers continued to dig out from a near-disastrous 1-6-1 start in the league.
“We got two points, but we need to get more, so we’re looking ahead to next weekend,” said Briggs.
Minnesota hosts Wisconsin next Friday and Saturday, while North Dakota receives a visit from Denver.