MINNEAPOLIS — During the second half of the season, Minnesota has seemed to forget how to hold onto a late lead. Friday night at Mariucci Arena, the Gophers remembered how to take one back.
Leading by a pair of goals after two periods, Minnesota (21-12-1, 14-10-1 WCHA) watched visiting St. Cloud State (14-19-2, 8-17-0 WCHA) score three times in the opening minutes of the third before running off three straight goals of its own for a much-needed 5-4 win.
Defenseman Alex Goligoski scored twice for the Gophers, who earned their seventh straight victory against the Huskies. The hosts won despite being outshot 39-29, a reversal of their recent series against Alaska-Anchorage, in which Minnesota posted 114 shots on goal and came away with one point.
“It reminded me a lot of the last game we had a two-goal lead, and fell asleep in the third period,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia, referencing the Gophers’ 5-5 tie Feb. 12 against UAA. “I give our guys a lot of credit for coming back to win it.”
“They don’t give points for shots,” said rueful St. Cloud State head coach Craig Dahl of the Huskies’ chart dominance.
Down 2-0 entering the third period, the Huskies’ Peter Szabo scored at 1:04 to cut the lead to one. Gopher netminder Justin Johnson (35 saves) got his pad on a shot by Dave Iannazzo from the right side, but left the rebound in front for Szabo, who stuffed it home.
The assist extended Iannazzo’s career-best point-scoring streak to eight games. The Husky co-captain also scored two goals for SCSU.
St. Cloud knotted it up a minute later on bang-bang passing. Working the puck into the high slot, Sean Garrity found Mike Doyle alongside the net, and Doyle’s hard-angle shot slipped inside the near post to tie the score at 2.
Finally, at 5:42, Iannazzo put St. Cloud ahead for the first time. Johnson attempted to smother a puck at the edge of the crease, but the puck dribbled past his glove. The Huskies’ Grant Clafton banged the loose puck off Johnson’s leg, and Iannazzo cleaned up with a tap-in into a wide-open net.
Despite that misplay, Johnson’s performance was good enough for Minnesota to end a 1-6-1 skid at home in calendar year 2005.
“He gave us a chance to win,” said Lucia of his backup goaltender, playing in the absence of the injured Kellen Briggs.
Indeed, this time the Gophers rallied. Off a faceoff win by Gino Guyer, Goligoski teed up his fourth goal of the season, a ripper from the point through a screen that beat Boron to his glove side.
Midway through the period, Nate Dey made a bid to put the Huskies back on top, but clanged his shot off the post from high in the faceoff circle. Instead, an obstruction call against SCSU’s Chris Anderson put Minnesota on the power play, and Goligoski notched his second of the night.
Taking a pass from St. Cloud native Chris Harrington, Goligoski unleashed a hammer of a slapshot from the right faceoff circle that skimmed into the net at 11:42. Goligoski’s swing took the hard-shooting freshman off his feet as the puck sailed past SCSU goaltender Tim Boron (24 saves) for a 4-3 Minnesota lead.
“As much as I could,” quipped Goligoski when asked how much he put into the shot.
Boron left the net with 48 seconds to go in regulation, but Ryan Potulny added an unassisted empty-netter at 19:18. That goal became the game winner when Iannazzo tucked a backhander past Johnson with four seconds left to make the final 5-4.
“We played well enough to win,” said Dahl, who added, “I couldn’t ask for a whole lot more out of any of our guys.”
There was no scoring in the first period, though not for a lack of chances. Minnesota defenseman Derek Peltier rang the post at the seven-minute mark, and Gopher captain Judd Stevens hit the crossbar 10 minutes in.
A St. Cloud power play halfway through the second period produced two good chances, but Johnson denied SCSU’s Justin Fletcher with glove saves. Conversely, a hooking call against Szabo put Minnesota on its second power play, and Peltier split two defenders and shoveled a high shot past Boron at 12:45 to make it 1-0 Minnesota.
Then, with two minutes to go in the second, skating four-on-four, Minnesota’s Tyler Hirsch took a lead pass from Stevens and roofed a backhander to make it 2-0. That lead was short-lived, setting up the eventual Gopher comeback.
“Some things are mental,” said Goligoski. “We have the lead in our own building, we should be able to seal it.”
The loss left the Huskies one point ahead of last-place Michigan Tech in the WCHA, pending the outcome of Tech’s game at Alaska-Anchorage. Minnesota, which secured first-round home ice after last weekend’s results, remained in fourth place in the conference.
Minnesota and St. Cloud rematch Saturday night at the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud. The Huskies will be looking for the split, and their first home WCHA win since Nov. 26.