MANKATO, Minn. — Not this time.
Denver finally made good on a big lead against Minnesota State by defeating the Mavericks 5-2 in front of 4,091 at the Midwest Wireless Civic Center.
The No. 1 Pioneers were able to ride a four-goal first period and keep MSU from coming back against DU, something the Mavericks (8-16-4 WCHA, 11-17-6 overall) have done three times in the past season and a half against Denver.
“That was a very important win for us in a lot of ways,” DU coach George Gwozdecky said. “The start to the game was probably critical for our success.”
Seniors Kevin Ulanski and Jeff Drummond paced the Pioneers. Ulanski had a goal and two assists, and Drummond had two goals. Freshman Peter Mannino stopped 32 shots in the win.
With the win, the Pioneers (18-6-2 WCHA, 23-8-2 overall) moved into a tie with Colorado College, DU’s opponent next weekend, for the WCHA title.
“Now we’ve got ourselves in the position where the championship, the league, is going to be decided in the state of Colorado between two teams that have battled each other,” Gwozdecky said.
“It’s a great rivalry. It has been for 50-plus years,” added Gwozdecky. “Add that rivalry to the immensity of the series coming up itself, boy, talk about a spectacle. Talk about drama … It’s going to be something special.”
Denver came out with a vengeance in the first period, outshooting MSU 14-10 and outscoring the host Mavericks 4-0.
Only 1:24 into the period, Drummond scored his first goal of the period to put the Pioneers up. The forward drove hard to the net and put a backhander past MSU goalie Chris Clark for his 13th goal of the season.
“The key for us was come out after last night’s game and setting the tone to play the way we know we can,” Drummond said.
At the six minute mark, Denver got another goal from a senior winger. Ulanski cut through the slot and danced to the left circle before firing a laser into the right corner of the net.
“Kevin has really played well. He had a good series,” Gwozdecky said.
The Pioneer lead increased on two more extra-man goals. While MSU was already down a man, referee Randy Schmidt made a questionable checking-the-goalie call on Maverick forward Rob Rankin. That gave DU a full two minutes of five-on-three play.
It took the Pioneers just 39 seconds of that time to score. From the right side of the net, Paul Stastny sent a pass through the crease to Luke Fulghum on the other side of the net. Fulghum buried the puck past Clark at 18:02 of the frame.
The lead increased to 4-0 as Denver scored 26 seconds later. Ulanski faked a shot from the right side that lured Clark out from the crease. The senor then found Drummond on the right side of the net for an easy tip in goal.
“(Ulanski) made a great play,” Drummond said. “Backdoor, wide open net. Anyone could have scored that. It was just a great play by (Ulanski).
“Jeff was due,” Gwozdecky said. “He was overdue. I was really glad to see him put in a couple early and give us that cushion that we needed.”
Mannino continued his strong play and made a huge save on David Backes to keep the Mavericks scoreless. On a MSU power play, Backes had a wide open left side of the net that he aimed for on a slap shot. However, Mannino dove to his right and got a piece of the shot, and the puck went off the crossbar and into the crowd.
“I thought he played really well,” Gwozdecky said of his netminder. “I was really proud of the fact that he responded to the challenge of having maybe the poorest game of his young career and the team not playing very well. We needed to have a strong game from our goaltender, and I thought Peter did terrific things with his start tonight.”
MSU did finally get on the board at 17:39 of the second. Captain Brad Thompson found a bouncing puck and chipped it over the Denver goalie to make it a 4-1 game.
Travis Morin put the Mavericks within two at 5:54 of the third. The sophomore fired a shot on the power play that got through traffic and beat Mannino.
But DU’s Matt Carle kept the patented Maverick comeback from rearing its head. The defenseman followed up a rush and wristed a shot off the post to beat Jon Volp, who replaced Clark at the start of the second.
Carle’s goal closed out the scoring as the game finished 5-2.
“They hurt us in the first period,” MSU coach Troy Jutting said. “After the first period, the game was 2-1 us. But you can’t go down four goals right away to a team like that.”
Schmidt appeared to lose control of a game that included 59 penalty minutes. With 3:49 left, Backes was given a five-minute checking-from-behind penalty and was kicked out of the game. The play incited a short melee, delaying Denver’s eventual win.
“I think that was a little frustration, and those things happen at times,” Jutting said.
The game was a much-needed confidence builder for Denver, which had given up 18 goals combined in its previous three games.
“I think it was important for guys to realize what kind of hockey you need to play at this time of year,” said captain Matt Laatsch. “I think guys definitely understand that. The run-and-gun stuff that went in October, November, and December doesn’t work now. You gotta be committed to defense.”
While Denver has its biggest weekend in its season finale against Colorado College next weekend, the Mavericks have finished league play and will watch the field pan out. Meanwhile, MSU will face Nebraska-Omaha next weekend in nonconference play.
“It’s what we’ve been looking forward to for quite some time. It’s definitely going to be some fun,” Drummond said.