MINNEAPOLIS — There will be a Game 3 Sunday at Mariucci Arena.
With a stirring effort, Alaska-Anchorage shocked second-ranked and top-seeded Minnesota Saturday in a 2-1 overtime win, forcing a rubber match to decide their WCHA first-round playoff series. Luke Beaverson scored the game winner for the Seawolves, who rallied from a one-goal deficit after two periods.
The loss was an historic one for Minnesota, which had never dropped a first-round playoff game at home since the opening of the new Mariucci Arena over a decade ago.
“I thought it was a tremendous effort by our guys,” said UAA head coach Dave Shyiak. “I thought five-on-five, we were the better team.”
The power play, which was a key for Minnesota in Friday’s series opener, was largely a non-factor despite a good number of opportunities as both teams were effective on the penalty kill. The Golden Gophers went 1-for-7 with the man-advantage, while UAA was 0-for-6.
Seawolf netminder Nathan Lawson turned in an impressive performance to steady his squad. Among his 25 stops were several outstanding saves that kept UAA within striking distance during a second period owned by Minnesota.
“That’s part of it,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia, referring to Lawson’s role in Minnesota’s lost opportunities to widen its lead. “A good goalie gives your team a chance to win.”
But Lawson had plenty of help from his teammates, who took away the room Minnesota needed to run its offense, forcing the Gophers into bad passes and turnovers, especially late in the game. Shyiak lauded the all-around effort from his charges.
“We can’t have [only] five or six guys showing up,” said Shyiak, “because we’re not as deep as some other teams.”
Entering the third down 1-0, UAA took control of the game, turning up its defensive pressure and preventing Minnesota from getting into the offensive zone, let alone near the Seawolf net.
UAA came close to tying it up while shorthanded with nine minutes left, when Blair Tassone picked up a turnover at center ice. Minnesota netminder Kellen Briggs (26 saves) made the save on a short angle, then foiled another chance on a scramble in front of the cage with five minutes to go.
Finally, with Minnesota still clinging to its lead, the Seawolves broke through for the tying goal. Making a pass from the left circle, Kevin Clark found Josh Lunden open in the slot. Briggs appeared not to see the pass, leaving the net wide-open for a shot that Lunden flipped home. His 11th goal of the year knotted the game at 1 at 16:25.
“Third period, even when they were up 1-0, we were all around the cage,” said Shyiak.
Shots on goal in the third period were 11-3 for the dominant Seawolves, with the third official shot for Minnesota being a soft 90-footer straight into Lawson’s glove at the buzzer.
“Toward the end, I thought they [the Gopher players] started to grip the stick,” said Lucia.
“I thought we did a good job of getting up in their face and forcing them to dump pucks,” said Shyiak.
In overtime, seconds after UAA defenseman Chad Anderson rang the right post from the point, Beaverson ended the game with a slapshot through traffic that landed in the top right corner of the net at 5:45 of the extra session, sending the series to a pivotal third game.
“Obviously a great win, and we’ve got to come back tomorrow,” said Shyiak.
Early on, Minnesota was forced to kill off consecutive power plays, keeping the game scoreless only because defenseman R.J. Anderson dove into the crease to block a UAA shot on a half-empty net seven minutes in.
Lawson returned the favor two minutes later. With Minnesota on the power play, he denied Jay Barriball with a glove save on a shot from less than 10 feet away.
At 15:35, Kyle Okposo put Minnesota ahead with his 18th goal of the season, his first in nine games. Operating behind the UAA net, Ryan Stoa found Okposo out front and Okposo’s second whack at the puck gave the Gophers a 1-0 lead.
Despite taking several penalties, the penalty kill buoyed the Gophers in the opening frame, as they shut down the Seawolves on four power plays, permitting only four shots on goal while shorthanded.
Minnesota had several good chances in the second period, starting when Stoa nearly extended the lead on a slapshot that trickled through Lawson, but was cleared away inches from the goal line.
Lawson stymied another golden opportunity for Minnesota minutes later, sliding across the crease to thwart Okposo on a two-on-one, and then did the same to Evan Kaufmann on another point-blank attempt during a brief Gopher power play.
“Their goalie played well, and their whole team played well,” said Lucia. “They’ve played well all weekend.”
On yet another man-advantage immediately afterward, Barriball hit the left post on a slapshot, leaving the score 1-0 after two periods despite a 15-5 Minnesota shot advantage in the middle frame.
Minnesota (27-9-3) and Alaska-Anchorage (13-20-3) will play Sunday starting at 7:07 p.m. CT, with the winner moving on to the WCHA Final Five.