DENVER — Friday night, the Denver Pioneers proved that no two-goal lead is safe at Magness Arena when they came back from two down to win against Minnesota-Duluth.
Saturday night’s rematch was a different story, as the Bulldogs avenged that loss with a 6-3 victory over their top-ranked hosts, ending the Pioneers’ 10-game unbeaten streak.
Strange goals, odd bounces and pucks off posts dominated the contest as netminder Isaac Reichmuth had 33 saves for the Bulldogs and teammate Tim Stapleton chipped in two points.
UMD cruised to a 6-0 lead and never looked back.
“It seemed like last night; every time we scored [Denver] scored right back,” said Reichmuth, now with a record of 6-10-3 on the season. “After we scored tonight we kept our momentum.”
Minnesota-Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin said he was happy to see the breaks go his team’s way after Friday’s loss.
“We deserved to win. It’s nice to get six goals against that team,” Sandelin said, admitting that he was braced for another comeback by the Pioneers. “I didn’t feel safe until the 10-minute mark of the third. It’s tough to win on Saturdays in this league. It’s a good win for our team.”
The first two periods were solid ones for the Bulldogs. Both squads traded scoring chances, but the Bulldogs put steady pressure on DU goaltender Peter Mannino as the first period began. Minnesota-Duluth was outshooting Denver in the first half of the period when the Pioneers began an assault of their own, getting a few good shots on Reichmuth.
“I think we played better defensively tonight,” said Stapleton, who scored his 15th goal of the year. “We were able to get some bounces [and] we had a very good start.”
Like Friday’s contest, the Bulldogs drew first blood. A bouncing puck got through the legs of DU defenseman Matt Carle to the front of the Denver net. Minnesota-Duluth forward Brett Hammond went to the net and was perfectly positioned to bat the puck past Mannino at 12:59 of the first period.
Denver generated a couple of offensive rushes over the next few minutes, but the Bulldogs clamped down defensively to foil DU by the time the Pioneers reached the UMD zone. The Pioneers got a late power-play chance but were never able to put themselves in a position to convert.
If there was any lingering doubt that the Bulldogs could get a lead and make it stick, that doubt was erased in the second period. With Denver looking lethargic, UMD cashed in early in the period with inspired and aggressive play. Bulldog forward Tim Stapleton — who had a three-point effort in Friday night’s loss — batted a rebound past Mannino at 3:35 of the period after linemate Justin Williams put a shot on net that ricocheted off the DU netminder.
“Offensively we talked about improving our forecheck,” said Stapleton. ” We were getting more shots and we gave ourselves a chance to win.”
Up 2-0, the Bulldogs intensified their pressure, taking advantage of a momentarily flat-footed Pioneer defense for their third goal of the evening. Winger Marco Peluso took a pass from defenseman Tim Hambly and broke in on Mannino alone, deking right to left and putting the puck past the sprawling DU goalie.
“As a team we had a number of bad plays,” Gwozdecky said. “You can only have so many holes in the dam before it breaks.”
Gwozdecky also cited the team’s lethargy in the first two periods as a symptom of the previous night’s furious comeback.
“Last night’s game took a lot out of us. It was tough, and for whatever reason, Duluth played with a lot more urgency,” said Gwozdecky.
Just as Denver had the bounces Friday, the Bulldogs found themselves the recipients of good fortune on Saturday. While Pioneer shots caromed off goalposts numerous times, the puck seemed to find its way into the net for Minnesota-Duluth.
Denver’s rhythm was further slowed by penalties, giving the Bulldogs a 5-on-3 power play midway through the period. With Denver players situated in front of Mannino, Stapleton darted behind the net and left a pretty drop pass for Bulldog captain Evan Schwabe, who scored on the wraparound to put UMD up 4-0.
Reichmuth thwarted the few scoring chances the Pioneers did get in the period.
“He got some luck with the pipes there, but he played very solidly,” Sandelin said of his junior goaltender. “He made some good saves and he gave us a solid effort.”
The weirdness began with a fluky play that was subject to review. A deflected shot from Hambly fluttered over the DU defense to Peluso, who appeared to bat the puck out of the air and into the net. Upon review, it was determined that the puck never hit Peluso’s stick — a decision that was greeted with skepticism by the Pioneers.
“We watched the replay, and it’s obvious that [Peluso] redirects the puck in with his stick,” Gwozdecky said. Mannino chalked the decision up to another bit of bad luck.
“That’s just the way it goes sometimes,” said Mannino (18 saves). “Obviously we wish [the] review would have gone our way.”
Denver, down 5-0 midway through the period, made a change in goal as Glenn Fisher took over in net. But Fisher was beaten a minute and a half later by a long-range wrister from UMD winger Luke Stauffacher that put the Bulldogs up 6-0 to cap off their five-goal second-period outburst.
“I give Duluth full credit,” said Gwozdecky. I thought their first two periods — especially the second — were very good. They played with great passion and they were almost releasing a season full of frustration.”
Denver ended Reichmuth’s shutout bid late in the period on a Paul Stastny power-play goal. The Pioneers scored twice more on the man-advantage in the third period on a Brett Skinner slapshot and a goal in the final minute by freshman forward Geoff Paukovich. But it was too little, too late.
“To use a poker analogy, I thought we dealt ourselves a real bad hand,” Gwozdecky said, noting that he was pleased with Denver’s effort in the third period. “We had a pretty good third period down an awful lot. We’re the kind of team that [is] never going to be out of it. Now we turn the page. We’re not going to let one game spoil it.”
Asked if his Bulldogs could use the game as a catalyst, Sandelin remained cautiously optimistic.
“We’ll see. We’ll just try and get some momentum from here,” Sandelin said.
The Bulldogs (12-15-5, 10-13-3 WCHA) return home next week to face Bemidji State, while the Pioneers (22-7-2, 17-5-2 WCHA) will travel to Minnesota State for a two-game series.