MINNEAPOLIS — After thrashing Minnesota-Duluth in Friday night’s series opener, Minnesota might have been forgiven for expecting an easy route to the sweep Saturday.
That, though, was not the case. In a showcase for both teams’ backup goaltenders, Minnesota prevailed 2-0 behind two goals by Ryan Potulny and a 27-save performance from Jeff Frazee. UMD netminder Nate Ziegelmann, meanwhile, put up 31 saves in the loss.
Saturday’s tempo was deliberate and the play much more balanced, neither of which surprised Gopher bench boss Don Lucia.
“You know, it was what I expected,” said Lucia, who commended the performance of both goaltenders, then noted, “It was more methodical tonight. We didn’t play with any sense of urgency.”
“[UMD] came out harder tonight,” said Potulny, who extended his point-scoring streak to six games, during which he has tallied nine goals to boost his candidacy for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award. The junior from Grand Forks, N.D., leads the nation in goals with 31.
“It was almost like a playoff game,” he continued. “Low-scoring, not a lot of pretty goals, and you had to work for your chances.”
The shutout was the third straight for the Gophers (25-6-5, 20-5-3 WCHA) and Frazee’s second in a row, a benchmark the freshman couldn’t recall matching — at least not recently.
“I know I did it in peewees,” Frazee quipped.
Ziegelmann, playing just his fourth career game in net for the Bulldogs (9-23-4, 6-19-3 WCHA), served notice early that he would not be an easy mark. The sophomore flashed the glove to deny Ryan Stoa from the doorstep four minutes into the first period, the first of several quality saves he was called upon to make in the opening frame.
“He played great for us,” said UMD head coach Scott Sandelin of Ziegelmann.
The teams traded power plays early in the first, without success for either side, but Potulny finally broke the deadlock at 10:58. He took a cross-ice pass from Stoa and fired a hard-angle shot that deflected off Ziegelmann and into the net.
The Bulldogs nearly tied it up at the end of the second period on a MacGregor Sharp backhand attempt, but Frazee managed to glove the skidding puck along the goal line. Video review confirmed the call of no goal, sending the teams to the locker rooms with Minnesota still holding a 1-0 lead.
A Mike Curry high-stick gave the Gophers another power play five minutes into the third period, but Ziegelmann again stood tall, denying Potulny a second goal with a diving glove save after a Danny Irmen diagonal pass left Potulny alone on the back door.
A giveaway in front a couple of minutes later provided UMD defenseman Jay Cascalenda a chance to tie it up, but his backhander skidded by harmlessly to leave the Minnesota lead intact.
UMD called timeout and pulled Ziegelmann with just under two minutes left in regulation. An ensuing Minnesota rush nearly permitted Gopher captain Gino Guyer to end a 29-game goalless streak, but a pass from Mike Howe in the offensive zone hopped Guyer’s stick to deny him the opportunity.
Instead, 30 seconds later Potulny got the empty-net goal — his second of the game — off a scramble around the UMD net to seal the win.
“He’s [Guyer] going to score a big goal — you watch and see,” said Lucia. “He’s going to get one when it counts.”
That might have been the only bit of disappointment on the evening for Minnesota, which extended its unbeaten streak to 12 games, tops in the nation. Minnesota has now lost just once in its last 20 contests, and is all but assured a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
For Minnesota-Duluth, however, the result was a familiar one amidst a season of lost chances.
“We’ve got to start capitalizing on our opportunities, on our power plays,” said Sandelin, whose team was 0-for-6 on the weekend with the man-advantage.
Both teams will now gear up for the first round of the WCHA playoffs. Next weekend, Minnesota will host Alaska-Anchorage for the best-of-3 series, while Minnesota-Duluth visits Denver.
“I think the guys are glad to get this game behind us,” said Lucia of the end of the regular season. “Now, we can turn our attention to the playoffs.”