MINNEAPOLIS — The bounces went Minnesota’s way Saturday against Colorado College.
With the Gophers and the Tigers tied at 1 late in the second period, the Gophers stunned their guests with a last-second tally by Chris Harrington, then got the third-period game winner from Phil Kessel for a 3-2 victory at Mariucci Arena.
Harrington’s third goal of the season came thanks to an unexpected assist from CC’s Brandon Straub. Tiger netminder Matt Zaba appeared to have a bead on Harrington’s long slapshot from the right side — until Straub’s stick got in the path of the low-flying puck, deflecting it through the netminder’s legs with just 0.9 seconds left in the middle frame.
“I was just trying to get the thing on the net,” said Harrington, who said he had no idea how it got through. “One time out of 100 it goes in.”
That sent the Gophers to the locker room with a 2-1 lead and fresh momentum, and after the Tigers tied the score again at 7:21 of the third period on Marty Sertich’s 12th goal of the season, Kessel netted the winner on the power play.
Jimmy Kilpatrick was tagged with an interference penalty when he and Ryan Potulny crossed paths away from the puck, and after letting a minute and a half elapse without a sniff at the net, Minnesota converted at 12:44.
A slapshot from the point snaked through traffic, finally bouncing out to Kessel on the left side. With half the net open, Kessel’s putaway easily beat a diving Zaba (26 saves) for his 10th goal of the season, his first since rejoining the Gophers after the World Juniors.
“When you get some chances, you’ve got to bury them,” said Kessel, who Minnesota head coach Don Lucia called “snakebitten” during his six-game goalless streak.
“I said [to Kessel], ‘You’re getting chances — they’re going to go in,” Lucia added.
Meanwhile, Kilpatrick’s penalty was one of several ticky-tack whistles in a game that CC head coach Scott Owens thought was too tightly called.
“I was a little bit surprised by some of the calls, both ways,” he said.
But the Harrington goal stood out as the turning point, despite CC’s rally.
“Obviously, the difference might be a goal with 0.9 seconds left that goes off our own guy’s stick,” said Owens.
In a reversal of Friday’s flow, the Tigers controlled play early, building a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes — and they could have had more if not for Kellen Briggs as Minnesota sleepwalked through the opening minutes.
Just two minutes into the game, Chad Rau sidestepped a Minnesota defender for a breakaway, but Briggs made the pad stop to keep the Tigers off the board.
“The game started at 3 [p.m.], and we started at 4,” said Lucia. “Kellen’s the one who kept us in it early.”
CC could do nothing with consecutive power plays midway through the period, getting the second one cut short after a Brian Salcido elbow. But just after as the resulting Gopher power play ended, Trevor Frischmon outraced Alex Goligoski to a loose puck, leading a two-on-one.
Frischmon’s pass through the slot found Joey Crabb, and though Briggs knocked down his initial shot, the senior from Anchorage, Alaska, put away the rebound for his 12th goal of the year and a 1-0 CC lead at 11:16.
“I think the first period was kind of a wakeup call,” said Briggs, who stopped 12 of 13 CC shots in the first en route to a game total of 28 saves. Minnesota had only five shots on goal in the opening period, just one more than its season low.
But the Gophers heated up after intermission. Midway through the second, Kris Chucko knotted the score at 1 for Minnesota. On the power play, Chucko tipped a Derek Peltier slapshot from the point past Zaba at 8:14.
Kilpatrick nearly untied it at the 18-minute mark of the second, ringing a wrist shot off the left post, but instead Harrington’s goal left the Tigers down one to open the third period.
Seven minutes later, Kilpatrick skated down a failed clearing attempt by Briggs near the blue line, and made a nifty no-look pass behind his back to Sertich as he broke into the zone. Sertich’s shot from the high slot beat Briggs cleanly.
After Kessel’s goal, CC pulled Zaba with just over a minute to go, then called time out with 40 seconds remaining. A frantic finish ensued, with plenty of pucks skimming by the net, but the Gophers held on for the sweep.
“I was telling them [the defensemen] the last seven or eight minutes, ‘Don’t get caught up the rink,’” said Lucia of the Gophers’ late efforts.
“They’re [the Gophers] in a good position right now,” said Owens, “and we’re in a position where any little mistake comes back to haunt us.”
Colorado College gets a week off and will then try end its four-game losing streak in a home series against North Dakota.
“It was a good game,” said Owens. “It’s a shame we didn’t get a point out of it.”
The Gophers, meanwhile, visit Wisconsin Jan. 27-28 with revenge on their minds. The Badgers dominated Minnesota back in December in a road sweep, two losses that still echo in the Twin Cities.
“Home’s been pretty good to us,” said Harrington, “[but] we are looking forward to going to Madison and playing the No. 1 team in the nation.”