MINNEAPOLIS — When opposing teams take the ice with the nation’s fourth- and sixth-ranked scoring defenses, a tight finish would seem to be in order, and Friday’s contest between No. 1 Minnesota and No. 5 Denver did not disappoint.
DU’s Geoff Paukovich scored the game’s only goal, Glenn Fisher stopped all 31 Gopher shots, and the Pioneers ended Minnesota’s 21-game home unbeaten streak with a 1-0 victory at Mariucci Arena.
Fisher was even involved — peripherally, at least — in the lone goal. At 8:38 of the second period, Minnesota’s Jim O’Brien appeared to nick him cutting past the net, and Fisher went to the ice, drawing a goaltender-interference call and giving Denver a power play.
On the man-advantage, Paukovich deflected Keith Seabrook’s point shot just inside the right post for a 1-0 Pioneer lead at 10:04. The tally was Paukovich’s fourth of the season.
“I was lucky enough to get a stick on it,” said Paukovich. “That’s something we work on in practice.”
The junior center had his 6-4, 220-pound frame parked squarely in front of Minnesota netminder Kellen Briggs for much of the power play, giving him an excellent vantage point to redirect the puck.
“I hope not,” said Paukovich when it was suggested that moving him out of position might not be the easiest thing. “That’s the plan. Being big, you just plant yourself there and take whatever they give you.”
Although it looked like the contact from O’Brien was minimal, Fisher said his reaction was legit.
“I wasn’t really faking it,” he said. “He just caught me by surprise.”
Minnesota head coach Don Lucia had a different view of the play.
“I saw the whiff,” said Lucia after a pause. “And he could have called it a dive, too. It is what it is.”
Now, sometimes “low-scoring” is a synonym for “sleep-inducing,” but this one was anything but, right to the final horn. With the crowd roaring, Briggs off for a six-on-five and Minnesota buzzing the DU net, Gopher sophomore Blake Wheeler gathered a loose puck in the slot and lifted a desperation shot over the crossbar with one second left.
“[The puck] settled on his skate instead of his stick … and I had an extra second to get across,” said Fisher of Wheeler’s stab. “I’m pretty sure I got my stick on it.”
With nine minutes to go in regulation, Denver’s Ryan Dingle had a golden opportunity to make it a two-goal lead on a breakaway, but Briggs (22 saves) stoned him and Dingle couldn’t collect the rebound before skimming past the crease and getting flattened by Minnesota blueliner Derek Peltier for his trouble.
Minnesota got another opportunity to tie the game on a Paukovich crosscheck with seven minutes to go, but the DU penalty kill continued its impressive work on the evening, blocking shots and preventing pucks from even getting to Fisher. The Golden Gophers went 0-for-4 on the power play versus Denver’s 1-for-6.
“I think we had some chances, but we just didn’t finish,” said Lucia.
One such chance came in the second period, when the Gophers couldn’t quite knot it up when a long-range shot rang off the post behind Fisher. A minute later Minnesota got a power play on a Dingle slash, and Fisher stood tall, stretching out to deflect Erik Johnson’s blast from the left side.
“We blocked a lot of shots … and got a little help from the posts,” said Fisher.
In the opening minutes of the first period, Minnesota’s Ben Gordon had the game’s initial grade-A chance on a breakaway, but Fisher stopped his stuff attempt and O’Brien couldn’t get his stick on the rebound. Denver’s Brian Gifford almost gave the Pioneers the lead moments later, but couldn’t corral a loose puck to Briggs’ right.
Power plays for each side followed, but both penalty kills were up to snuff — Denver failed to put a shot on net during its man-advantage — and the first period ended in a scoreless tie.
Both goaltenders did their parts in the early going, with Briggs stopping several tipped shots and clearing loose pucks, while Fisher was steady in his end as well. Minnesota held a 14-9 advantage in shots on goal during the initial frame and controlled most of the play, but could not break the deadlock.
With the loss, Minnesota has now given up just 11 goals in its last 10 games, but over the same span the Gophers have lost their second and third decisions of the season, those defeats coming in their last three games.
“It’s kind of like last week in Wisconsin,” said Briggs. “We didn’t play as well as we could Friday [a 2-1 loss], so we learned a lesson and came back Saturday.”
Minnesota (20-3-3, 12-2-3 WCHA) will look to do that again, while Denver (18-7-2, 10-5-2 WCHA) tries for the sweep Saturday at Mariucci. Game time is set for 5:37 p.m. CT.