MINNEAPOLIS — One night after Alaska-Anchorage hemmed in Minnesota’s offense to pull off an upset victory, the Gophers gave the Seawolves a little of their own medicine.
Sunday evening at Mariucci Arena, UAA managed just 12 shots on goal and Minnesota scored twice late in the game to take a 3-1 win, sending the Gophers to the WCHA Final Five next weekend.
Mike Carman notched the game winner at 8:44 of the third period, and Ben Gordon and Kyle Okposo also scored for Minnesota, which bottled up UAA for the final two periods.
The Seawolves had just two shots on goal in the second and three in the third, and the Gophers killed four UAA power plays, including a major in the first period, to hold the Seawolves off the board after Kevin Clark’s early marker had given them a 1-0 lead.
“The 12 shots on goal, the penalty kill, killing off that five-minute major,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia, ticking off the Gophers’ defensive accomplishments.
“The coaches stress defense first,” concurred Carman, “and they’ve told us all year that good offense comes from good defense.”
With the score tied at 1 partway through the third, Tony Lucia’s rink-wide pass in the neutral zone found Ryan Flynn on the left side. Flynn centered to Carman, whose one-timer from between the circles beat UAA netminder Nathan Lawson (26 saves) cleanly inside the right post at 8:44.
“I didn’t see it go in, but the crowd roared, so I guess I scored,” quipped Carman.
“We haven’t played Tony and Carman and Flynn together in a long time,” said Lucia. “I thought they played really well and controlled a lot of shifts.”
A hold by Erik Johnson gave the Seawolves a power play with just over three minutes left in regulation, but on the penalty kill Okposo sealed the Gophers’ victory with his 19th goal of the season, thanks in part to a funky bounce.
Leading a two-on-one shorthanded break, Okposo’s pass found a wide-open Lucia, who banged a wrister off the crossbar. The puck rebounded crazily off the rear glass, back over the net, and to Okposo, who hammered it through a surprised Lawson at 18:35.
The third period was a mirror image of Saturday’s, during which UAA permitted Minnesota just three shots on goal while rallying for the win. This time around, the Gophers had more in the tank.
“I think our forecheck was finally starting to get to them,” said Carman. “Once we got them bottled up, it’s a lot more tiring to play in your defensive zone than in your offensive zone.”
In the early going, Clark put Alaska-Anchorage up 1-0 at 5:43 of the first period. On the play, Josh Lunden dug the puck out of the corner and shoveled it ahead for Clark; his short backhander to the far side beat Minnesota ‘keeper Jeff Frazee (11 saves) for Clark’s eighth goal of the season.
While that goal appeared a bit soft, it was the only one Frazee allowed, though UAA didn’t have many quality chances.
“He did what he had to do,” said Lucia of his freshman netminder. “He only gave up one goal.”
Minutes later, Minnesota ended up on the short end of a five-minute power play after Gordon was called for charging the goaltender. Leading a two-on-one from the left wing, Gordon opted to shoot but flattened Lawson in the process.
In a pivotal sequence, the Gophers killed three and a half minutes of the penalty before UAA’s Justin Bourne negated the rest by tripping Carman, and despite another Seawolf power play late in the frame, Minnesota escaped the first period down just one.
At 4:22 of the second period, Gordon, who was among the most active players on the ice all game, made up for the major by pulling Minnesota even. Leading a rush up the right side, Jay Barriball hit Gordon with a short centering pass, and Gordon lasered the puck past Lawson for his 11th goal of the year.
Lawson kept the score that way with five minutes to go in the period, knocking aside a point-blank shot by Justin Bostrom on a loose puck next to the crease. Luke Beaverson was whistled for delay of game for dislodging the net, but the Seawolves killed the resulting Minnesota power play.
The second period ended tied at 1, setting up the Gophers’ scoring surge in the third.
“Tonight was a big step for our team,” said Gordon. “It was kind of the first crucial game for us. … It was good to see that at gut-check time, we dug down and got it done.”
Minnesota, now 28-9-3, will face the winner of the Wisconsin-Michigan Tech play-in game in the WCHA semifinals Friday in St. Paul. Alaska-Anchorage ends its season at 13-21-3.