MINNEAPOLIS — One streak was coming to an end and another was carrying on Saturday night inside Mariucci Arena, it was just a matter figuring out which it would be.
With the help of a rejuvenated power play and some timely goal-scoring, Minnesota made sure the result went its way.
The Gophers broke out of a weekend-long power-play slump, muscled out three straight goals with the man advantage and took care of St. Cloud State 4-2 in front of a capacity crowd of 10,067 that filled the posh facility for the conclusion an instate battle that continues to heat up every time these teams meet.
In the process, the Gophers picked up their 18th straight win at home and their 13th of the season, enough to keep pace with the other contenders in the WCHA and continue controlling the rivalry with St. Cloud State.
The win was the Gophers’ seventh in their last eight games with the Huskies, but anyone waiting in traffic after the game would tell you that the last two have defiantly been the toughest.
“We knew we had to battle every period to win the game and fortunately that happened,” said Gopher forward Danny Irmen, who figured in three of the Minnesota goals. “They’re a tough team to play, but we knew this was a big weekend for us and it feels good to get four points.”
After getting the first two points in overtime Friday night in St. Cloud, the Gophers had to make the hour drive back down to the Twin Cities to pick up the last two.
It was apparent early that Friday’s goaltending made the trip down I-94 as well.
“Both goaltenders played outstanding this weekend,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. “And we knew we had to get good goaltending to win, but we expect that out of Kellen now.”
Briggs came up big often, and was tested first, getting a glove on a Mike Doyle chance from the slot to sniff out the Huskies first scoring chance.
A few minutes later, on the other end, Tim Boron got over to stop Ryan Potulny from in close. Boron got lucky a few times as well in the first period. First Garrett Smaagaard clanked one of the iron to Boron’s left, then Tyler Hirsch fired high after leaving Aaron Brocklehurst in his dust.
The game opened up in the second, with the Huskies building momentum on the power play. They outshot Minnesota 8-0 in the first 9:26 of the period, but couldn’t get on the board until the 14:55 mark, and it took a fortunate bounce to get it done.
The play started at neutral ice. As Andrew Gordon and Nate Dey raced into the Minnesota zone 2-on-1, Gordon fed a pass to Dey, but Briggs came flying over to make a save with the paddle of his stick. The puck ended up in the corner, where Joe Jensen collected it and flung it out front. It hit Gordon on the shaft of his stick and ricochet of a Minnesota defender’s helmet before fluttering in over Briggs’ right shoulder. The goal gave the Huskies their first lead of the weekend.
“It was a typical Andrew Gordon goal,” said Gordon, who has had at least three of his seven goals this year go in off something other than his stick blade. “We’ll take it though, we needed to score first and that got it done.”
But it was short-lived, as Irmen squeezed a power-play goal through Boron’s five-hole three minutes later. Tyler Hirsch set the goal up, waiting until the last millisecond to slide the pass right onto Irmen’s tape.
“That was an important part of the game,” said Lucia. “They just went up 1-0 and it makes you feel a lot better going into the third tied 1-1 and I think it helped us get some momentum back.”
The Huskies nearly snuffed out that momentum by grabbing the lead right back, but Gordon fired what would have been a no-doubter wide by three feet.
That seemed to be the killer, because Minnesota added another power-play goal early in the third. This time it was Potulny knocking in a shot that deflected off Irmen’s skate for his 17th of the year.
Andy Sertich pounded the apparent nail in midway through the final period, with Minnesota’s third straight power play goal, on another rebound that sat in Boron’s crease.
The Huskies wouldn’t go away, though. Craig Dahl called his timeout after Sertich scored, and his team regrouped, then let Brock Hooton make it a game again with 2:27 to play on a nifty backhand that he sent over Briggs’ glove.
“I just told the guys that there was a lot of time left and anything can happen,” said Dahl, whose team won’t play again until after Christmas when they face Maine in the first round of the Everblades Classic in Naples, Fla. “Sure enough we made it 3-2 and I was kind of hoping that you get lucky once in a while when it’s 3-2, but it didn’t happen.”
It almost did, as Dahl pulled Boron with a little under a minute to play and the Huskies generated a few good chances, the best coming off the stick of Dave Iannazzo. Gino Guyer ended the suspense shortly after, with a rink-long shot that ended up in the empty net at the other end of the ice, ensuring the Gopher’s home winning steak will last at least another week.
They’ll go for number 19 in 12 days, when they open up the Dodge Holiday Classic with Merrimack. If the Gophers get by the Warriors, the winner of the Northern Michigan/Harvard semifinal could have a chance to be part of Gopher hockey lore as victim number 20.
“We don’t even think about it,” said Irmen. “We just come out and try to get the fans into it and we’ve just been playing well at Mariucci. I don’t even know what the number is, we just have to keep playing good at home.”