DULUTH, Minn. — History didn’t favor Minnesota-Duluth on Saturday in the second game of its WCHA playoff series at the DECC.
The Bulldogs lost the opener in the best-of-3 Friday and faced the task of winning two straight games. Only nine teams have come back from a one-game deficit to win a first-round series since the format was introduced in 1987-88.
No. 4 UMD will have a chance to be the 10th.
The Bulldogs struck for four second-period goals on the way to a 6-2 victory over Minnesota State before 4,646. That evened the series which Mankato began with a 4-3 overtime win.
The deciding game is 7:05 p.m. Sunday, with the winner advancing to this weekend’s WCHA Final Five tournament at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Tickets go on sale at noon at the DECC.
UMD (24-11-4) trailed 1-0 early in the second period then broke loose with two goals in 72 seconds, three in 2:36 and four total in the period to stop Minnesota State’s four-game win streak. The Bulldogs led in shots on goal 49-28.
Team scoring leader Junior Lessard, with three goals, now has a Division I-leading 27 for the season and 69 in his career. The Hobey Baker Memorial Award candidate has three hat tricks this season and 54 points in 39 games, the most points since Chris Marinucci’s 61 in 1993-94.
“We had it in the back of our minds that if we lost again we’d be out of the tournament. This wasn’t a time to hold back. You can’t save it for later,” said Lessard, who had a career-best five-point night to tie a UMD playoff record. “We started moving our feet and playing tougher.”
Minnesota State (10-23-5) went up 1-0 as Brock Becker finished a 2-on-1 break at 1:54 of the second period. The Bulldogs responded swiftly and led in shots-on-goal 23-9 the rest of the period.
Defenseman Beau Geisler came out of the right corner of the offensive zone, skated across the front of the net and scored from the left edge at 4:31 for his ninth goal. He added two assists and has six points in two games.
Center Evan Schwabe won a draw seconds later and Lessard, although being tied up in the slot, got a shot away and past goalie Jon Volp. Schwabe finished with three assists and has 31 this season.
Lessard then tipped a Geisler power-play attempt at 7:07 and winger Luke Stauffacher finished UMD’s scoring in the period from the right circle with 5:39 left. Minnesota State scoring leader and All-American Shane Joseph cut the lead to 4-2 with 1:57 remaining in the period.
“We threw 49 shots at (Volp) Friday and had a hard time getting by him, and then it was 0-0 after one period tonight and you start thinking `Geez, are we ever going to get past this guy?’ ” said Schwabe. “Then Beau’s goal took all the weight off our shoulders and we weren’t holding our sticks as tight as we did in the first period. Everyone raised to the occasion.”
Lessard’s hat trick was completed at 6:04 of the third period with a close-range power-play shot. He was then leveled from behind, losing his helmet on a Rob Rankin hit that received no penalty.
Thirty-three penalties for 66 minutes were called in the game, including 16-for-32 by Minnesota State, the WCHA’s most-penalized team, and 17-for-34 on UMD, the second-most penalized team. Both are expecting a rugged finale.
“I think it will be the same kind of gritty game,” said Minnesota State’s Joseph. “After 0-0 tonight, that was something we’ll take any day on the road. But that lapse in the second period, when they scored three quick goals, that hurt us.”
Justin Williams’ 10th goal of the season ended the scoring with 4:44 left. Volp was replaced by Kyle Nixon at that point and finished with 38 saves, while UMD’s Reichmuth had 26. The win broke a streak of three straight home losses for UMD, now 14-5 at the DECC.
Second-place UMD now faces ninth-place Minnesota State one more time.
“What I liked is we kept getting great scoring chances and found a way to get some pucks in against a good goalie,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “You count on your key players to take charge and that’s what Junior and Beau did. Junior had a night.”