MINNEAPOLIS — After playing Alaska-Anchorage to a stalemate halfway through the game, No. 2 Minnesota broke out the offensive doldrums late in the second period, scoring two goals a minute and a half apart to take control of its first-round playoff contest en route to a 6-2 win Friday.
Jay Barriball scored two goals and Ben Gordon added three assists for the Golden Gophers, who are one win away from advancing to the WCHA Final Five for the ninth straight year. Much of the damage was done on the power play, where Minnesota was 3-for-8.
“We took advantage on some of our opportunities, and that was the difference tonight,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia.
Was the motivation provided by last Sunday’s unheard-of morning skate after a disappointing Saturday against Michigan Tech? Or was it the bleached-blond haircuts the Gophers adopted for the playoffs?
Whatever it was, it did the trick as Minnesota found the back of the net with increasing frequency as the evening progressed.
“After probably the first 30 minutes, we were okay, and then we started giving them time and space,” said UAA head coach Dave Shyiak. “When you go to the box as many times as we did, they’re going to take advantage.”
With the game tied at 2, Barriball scored what turned out to be the game winner. After hitting the post on a breakaway midway through the second period, the diminutive winger promptly redeemed himself with his second goal of the night and 18th of the season.
On the power play, Barriball wound up and blasted a short-angle shot into the upper left corner at 13:19 to make it 3-2, a lead Minnesota never relinquished. The point was his 38th, giving him the outright team lead in that category.
“Jay’s had a terrific year,” said Lucia. “He’s a natural goal-scorer.”
After Barriball’s score, Ryan Flynn immediately gave the hosts a two-goal cushion thanks to a nice hustle play by Justin Bostrom, who stole the puck from a Seawolf in the offensive zone and found Flynn wide-open in the slot. With no defender in sight, Flynn easily beat freshman netminder Jon Olthuis (26 saves) at 14:54.
Blake Wheeler extended the Gophers’ advantage to 5-2 just over a minute into the third, beating a defender around the corner and slipping a backhander five-hole. Gordon notched his third helper of the game on the play.
Bostrom capped off the scoring with a power-play tally at 18:00 of the third.
“We came out a little slow out of the gate, but we played good defense,” said Barriball. The Gophers allowed fewer scoring chances as the game went on, permitting UAA just 13 shots in the last two periods, most of them from the outside.
Despite a lackluster first period during which they were outshot 12-9, the Gophers salvaged the lead with a late power-play goal, taking a 2-1 edge into intermission.
Minnesota opened the scoring at 6:56, when Gordon found a streaking Barriball, and Barriball put an easy tip past UAA freshman netminder Jon Olthuis. But the Seawolves knotted it up at 14:49 when Paul Crowder chased down his own pass attempt and fired a turnaround shot through the legs of Minnesota ‘keeper Kellen Briggs (23 saves).
Minnesota retook the lead with just 17 seconds left in the period on the power play. Captain Mike Vannelli did the honors with a one-timer from the left point to make it 2-1 after 20 minutes of play.
Anchorage drew even at 2 midway through the second period with its second power-play goal of the game. Jay Beagle made the goal possible, coming around the back of the net and finding Merit Waldrop unmarked on the opposing side for the putaway.
That was the last UAA goal of the evening, as Minnesota pulled away.
“It just took a little while to get things going our way,” said Barriball.
Minnesota (27-8-3) and Alaska-Anchorage (12-20-3) meet again Saturday for Game 2 of the series.
“We’re halfway, and that’s all it is right now,” said Lucia. “You’ve got to win two games, and we’ve won one.”