DENVER — Up-and-down Colorado College picked the right weekend to be up.
The Tigers kept their NCAA tournament hopes alive and completed a sweep of their WCHA first-round series at Denver with a 6-1 victory Saturday before 4,732 fans at Magness Arena.
CC won the best-of-three series a week after Denver swept the Tigers in a home-and-home series to end the regular season. The Tigers have alternated sweeping their opponents and getting swept over the past four weekends.
“It’s huge,” CC forward Brett Sterling said. “We knew we had to come out and establish ourselves. Beating Denver is always a great feeling, and doing it in their rink to knock them out of the WCHA playoffs is a great feeling.”
This weekend’s sweep marks the first time CC has won a WCHA playoff series on the road in a best-of-three format; they had been swept in their previous five attempts. They’ve won three other WCHA playoff series on the road in a two-game, cumulative-score format.
CC (20-15-3) travels to St. Paul, Minn., next week for the WCHA Final Five. CC’s seed at the Final Five is yet to be determined because the WCHA reseeds after the first round. If CC is one of the top three seeds, it will play Friday in a semifinal. If the Tigers are a No. 4 or 5 seed, they will appear in the play-in game Thursday.
CC was the No. 7 seed entering the WCHA playoffs. Denver (23-12-5) had the nation’s longest active unbeaten streak at nine games at the start of the series and was the fourth seed.
The Tigers’ six goals were one shy of a season-high against a WCHA team this season. CC got two goals apiece from Sterling and Brady Greco, scored three power-play goals in six tries to snap an 0-for-29 skid and got 35 saves from goalie Curtis McElhinney, who has allowed just four goals in his past three starts.
CC earned a 3-0 lead in the first period on goals from Colin Stuart, Sterling and Reid Goolsby. After Goolsby’s breakaway goal, which went off goalie Adam Berkhoel’s pad, popped in the air and dribbled over the line, DU coach George Gwozdecky pulled Berkhoel, who the previous weekend limited CC to three goals on 59 shots.
“The first period was key, I thought,” CC coach Scott Owens said. “We came out and played with a lot of authority. We got a couple bounces and Adam wasn’t that sharp. At least we took advantage of some deals and kind of set the tone.”
Gabe Gauthier cut CC’s lead to 3-1 five minutes into the second period with a power-play goal. CC answered with two power-play goals from Greco, who beat backup goalie Glenn Fisher to the near post on one goal and to the far post on the other.
DU figures to be in the NCAA tournament despite the sweep, but Gwozdecky said this will be an “anxiety-filled week” because DU’s outcome will be determined by the outcomes of other tournaments.
If CC wins the Final Five, it will gain an automatic bid to the NCAAs. Owens said CC remains “a longshot” otherwise, but going 2-1 next week would give the Tigers a chance.
“This is just good for us to come together before the Final Five,” Greco said. “We’re jelling right now.”
DU forward Max Bull went to the hospital in the second period to have his ribs checked after Sterling checked him into the boards. Sterling was called for charging on the play.
CC defenseman Mark Stuart played despite getting hit in the knee Friday by Jeff Drummond.
Mark Fitzhenry covers college hockey for The Gazette of Colorado Springs, Colo.