MANKATO, Minn. — Everybody in the building knew it was going to be close, but could it really be the same exact game?
Just 24 hours after going nearly 100 minutes without scoring a goal, No. 15 Minnesota and No. 10 Minnesota State went to overtime again, this time tangled in a 1-1 tie.
Just like Friday night, where the better team down the stretch fell in defeat, Minnesota struggled in the third period and overtime but emerged with a season-saving 2-1 win Saturday night at the Alltel Center to force a third game in a low-scoring, high intensity first round playoff series.
“Just like last night, the team that was stronger in the end got beat,” Gophers’ coach Don Lucia said.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Mavericks’ coach Troy Jutting said. “They came out hard, but I thought we got better as the game went along.”
The opening minutes of the game featured a pair of brilliant saves, one on each end of the rink.
The first one came less than two minutes in by Minnesota’s Alex Kangas, who found himself in the full splits to rob MSU’s Mick Berge and keep the game tied at zero.
Less than two minutes later, the Mavericks’ Mike Zacharias made almost the same save, robbing the Gophers’ Evan Kaufmann.
“It’s been a goaltenders’ series, but both goalies have been spectacular,” Lucia said. “I don’t expect tomorrow to change at all.”
The Gophers capitalized on their next opportunity. After Zacharias stopped a first shot at the left post, UM’s Justin Bostrom gained control of the rebound, zoomed around the net and slipped the puck in wraparound style for the Gophers first goal of the weekend at 6:07.
“It was big for us,” said Gophers’ forward Mike Carman. “We were starting to wonder whether we were gonna get one past [Zacharias]. We went almost five periods without putting a goal in last night, so it was key to get out in front.”
Minnesota outshot Minnesota State 11-8 through one in what was the Gophers best period of the weekend.
Zacharias was fantastic again in the second, holding the Gophers scoreless despite a 14-4 edge in shots for Minnesota.
The Mavericks finally gained scoring opportunities in the third period and capitalized with a power-play goal at 11:09. Geoff Irwin slid a backhand pass back to Andy Sackrison in the slot. He roofed a wrister over the glove of Kangas to tie the score.
“We hadn’t been playing up until then and we finally started getting it going,” Sackrison said. “[Sunday] we’re going to have to show up for the full 60 instead of the last 20.”
Both goalies were great again down the stretch, especially Zacharias, who made two saves in the final minute of the game, one from his rear, to preserve overtime for a second consecutive night.
This night, it was the Gophers doing the celebrating.
Derek Peltier dished the puck to Carman in the neutral zone, and the sophomore winger took it from there. He charged over the blue line and unleashed a wrist shot just inside the zone. The shot deflected off MSU defenseman Channning Boe’s shin pad, off the crossbar and into the net at 7:33.
“The ‘D’ started to step on me so I shot it,” Carman said.
“You just have to shoot the puck,” Lucia said. “We caught the break tonight. Last night they made the play; tonight, we did.”
The win forced a decisive third game and tied the intra-state rivals for 11th in the PairWise. Game three is scheduled for a 7:07 p.m. start at the Alltel Center in Mankato.
“We’re going to have to weather the storm a little bit,” Kangas said. “Hopefully, we can score early and take the crowd out of it and go from there.”