ST. PAUL, Minn. — You’d think the Minnesota Golden Gophers would have been tired, after playing in their fourth game (their fifth in a sense, thanks to extra periods) in seven days.
Instead, the Gophers had enough energy to get the game-winning goal with 12.7 seconds remaining in the third period to lift them to a 3-2 victory over the St. Cloud State University Huskies to earn a Friday night date with the Colorado College Tigers.
“I’m real proud of our guys,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. “They’ve been through a lot in the last week, physically, emotionally; our preparation was more rest and on the board more than anything else and to come out and play as well as we did tonight is a real credit to them.
In front of a sold-out crowd of 19,232 at the Xcel Energy Center, Mike Howe picked up a Derek Peltier shot that bounced off the boards and shot it past Huskies goaltender Jase Weslosky (26 saves).
“I saw it went out to the point — I’m not exactly sure how it got out there,” said Howe. “I was kind of hanging out behind the net, trying to get lost and I knew the puck would come and I was trying to get open for a rebound. Sure enough, it went off the back wall and came right to my stick and I just had to tap it in after that.”
The apparently-not-fatigued Gophers drew first blood just 25 seconds into the game when Derek Peltier’s shot from the point hit Evan Kaufmann and then was redirected five-hole on Weslosky off Tony Lucia’s skate.
“I thought the first goal was critical tonight,” said Don Lucia, “to come off what we went through and be able to jump out the very first shift and play with a lead.”
The Huskies evened it up about seven minutes later on a four-on-three. Aaron Brocklehurst kept a clearing attempt in at the point and passed the puck across to Garrett Raboin, who sent it down to WCHA scoring champion Ryan Lasch at the red line. He in turn fed a crashing Raboin, who tipped it in through Gophers’ netminder Alex Kangas’ (25 saves) legs.
Minnesota had two chances to get ahead a few minutes later on two breakaway chances, but both Howe and Mike Carman blew their opportunities.
“We’re not happy with the way we played tonight,” said St. Cloud coach Bob Motzko. “First period we had a very poor period and it looked like we had stage-itis.”
Four and a half minutes into the second period and 38 seconds left in a five-on-three advantage, the Gophers regained the lead. A Cade Fairchild point shot popped out to Weslosky’s right, and Blake Wheeler grabbed the rebound and threw it on net. Matt Stephenson tried to save it behind Weslosky, but Kaufmann was on the doorstep to tap it in for the 2-1 lead.
With four and a half minutes remaining in the game, the Huskies tied it at 2 on a two-on-one between Lasch and Tony Mosey, with Mosey taking the pass from Lasch and tapping the puck into a virtually-open net.
“It was nice to get that goal to tie it up, but when you’re playing a team like Minnesota with all that offense and players they have, I don’t think there’s ever a safe time in the game, and it showed tonight,” said Lasch.
“We felt when we tied it up — we were actually talking on the bench, this isn’t going to overtime; we’re going to end it,” said Motzko. “You could kind of feel our team come and then we took the penalty and then they make the play at the end of the game and that’s it.”
The Huskies had a chance to get their first lead of the game about 90 seconds later when John Swanson came down on a breakaway, but Kangas came out of the net to poke the puck away.
“I misread it and I thought he was a little closer to the puck than he actually was. I think he was a little tired because they were on the penalty kill at the time,” said Kangas. “It took him a while to catch up to the puck and first, I wasn’t going to play it.
“Then I saw he was still a ways out so I figured I might as well get out there and try to play it and not let him have a clean breakaway on me so I was lucky enough to get a stick on it.”
Howe then made his play to send his Gophers to the Friday’s semifinal game, where they will face the Tigers at 7:07 p.m. at the X.
“Fortunately for us, we got a good bounce off the end boards and scored the game-winner,” said Don Lucia. “But you know what? This team deserves a few bounces. We haven’t had a lot this year.”
The Huskies, meanwhile, will next play in the NCAA tournament next week against a to-be-determined opponent in a to-be-determined location.