DENVER — The No. 8 University of Denver Pioneers evened their best 2-of-3 first-round WCHA playoff series with Minnesota-Duluth after defeating the Bulldogs, 3-2, tonight in front of 5,657 fans at Magness Arena. Junior right wing Ryan Helgason scored the game-winning goal with 4:29 remaining to break a 2-2 tie for the Pioneers, who saw UMD erase their 2-0 second-period lead.
It appeared that the Pioneers (21-14-3) would head to overtime for a school record fourth consecutive time when UMD (10-24-4) deflected a shot into the net with 6.8 seconds left in the third period. However, the goal was reviewed and overtuned because Tim Stapleton’s deflection was made with a high stick.
Pioneers sophomore left wing Ryan Dingle scored two goals, marking his seventh game this season with two or more scores. DU sophomore goaltender Peter Mannino improved to 6-0-0 in the postseason for his career after stopping 29 shots.
Pioneers junior defenseman Matt Carle set a DU single-season record for assists by a defenseman with his 41st of the year on a first-period goal. The Hobey Baker Award candidate also assisted on another DU score to finish with two points while junior right wing J.D. Corbin also added two assists.
The Pioneers, who were 0-for-3 on the power play, generated 30 shots with Minnesota-Duluth goaltender Nate Ziegelmann finishing the game with 27 saves. The Bulldogs were 1-for-5 on the power play and totaled 31 shots.
“I think we had a much better attitude coming into this game tonight, and we knew we had to play hard and with intensity,” DU head coach George Gwozdecky said. “Mannino came up with some big saves when we needed them, and that was a positive for us.”
Both teams had several chances to score the game’s first goal, including a wrist shot by Dingle from just inside the right circle that was gloved by Ziegelmann at 17:21. A few minutes later, a UMD shot snuck through Mannino’s five hole and was headed toward the right post before sophomore center Geoff Paukovich steered it clear.
A steal by Carle in the neutral zone helped DU take a 1-0 lead 14:56 into the first period. Carle skated down the left side and backhanded a pass to Corbin, whose slap shot deflected off Dingle’s thigh pad over Ziegelmann and into the net.
The trio of Dingle, Corbin and Carle continued to spark the Pioneers’ offense in the second period. Dingle’s shot from the left made its way through traffic into the net to give DU a 2-0 lead at 2:16 with the assists on his second goal again going to Carle and Corbin.
A glove save by Mannino at 14:05 of the second period with the Bulldogs swarming on the power play preserved DU’s two-goal lead. The Bulldogs had another opportunity to get back into the game with just under eight minutes in the second period, but Stapleton fanned on a one-timer in front of a wide-open Pioneers net.
Stapleton made up for the miscue on the power play with less than a minute remaining in the second period by assisting on Jason Garrison’s one-timer that trimmed DU’s lead to 2-1.
The Pioneers nearly scored 30 seconds into the final period when sophomore center Paul Stastny’s drive from the slot hit the post. UMD tied the game 5:45 into the third on Michael Gergen’s shot from just inside the blue line.
A seemingly innocent pass from Helgason behind the net proved to be the game-winning goal for the Pioneers. After UMD defenseman Josh Meyers misplayed the puck behind his own net, Helgason backhanded a pass toward the front of the net that deflected off Ziegelmann’s skate across the goal line at 15:31 to put DU ahead 3-2.
Mannino made several key stops in the closing seconds of the game after UMD pulled Ziegelmann in a favor of an extra skater with 47 seconds left to play.