MINNEAPOLIS — In a penalty-filled contest Friday night, Minnesota State rode breakaway goals and one outstanding period of play to a win over Minnesota. In the series finale Saturday at Mariucci Arena, the blueprint was slightly different but the result was the same: a Maverick victory, this time by the score of 3-1.
Senior netminder Mike Zacharias made 29 saves and sophomore blueliner Kurt Davis scored the critical first goal of the game for Minnesota State (13-13-3, 9-11-2 WCHA), which scored one power-play goal, one shorthander and one with an empty net. The Mavericks won despite seeing Minnesota kill a pair of five-minute major penalties less than two minutes apart early in the second period, and held the Gopher power play scoreless on six chances.
“I thought defensively we played very well from start to finish,” said MSU head coach Troy Jutting, whose Mavericks moved into seventh place in the conference and into the race for home ice in the first round of the playoffs after going 2-8-0 in their last 10 WCHA games. “For the most part, we kept shots to the outside.”
For Minnesota (12-7-5, 9-6-3 WCHA), the losses were a disappointing follow-up to a sweep of St. Cloud State last weekend and left the Gophers tied for fourth in the standings, though with games still in hand on the rest of the league.
“We couldn’t get going offensively,” observed Minnesota head coach Don Lucia, “and we had to kill a boatload of penalties.”
Indeed, Minnesota dominated the opening minutes until a series of penalties midway through the first period — including an odd combination of goaltender-interference whistles against both teams — which eventually left Minnesota State on the power play.
That’s when MSU opened the scoring, taking a lead it never relinquished. After Mick Berge’s shot from the high slot hit traffic in front, Geoff Irwin scooped up the loose puck and fired it back on net. Minnesota netminder Alex Kangas (28 saves) made the stop but couldn’t control the puck, and Davis swooped in to put it away from the right side of the crease at 11:24.
“It hit my stick as I was sneaking in from the blue line, and it went in,” said Davis of his sixth goal of the season.
Next, with the Gophers on the power play of the game after an Irwin trip, the Mavericks extended the lead to 2-0 at 17:59 on a play reminiscent of Friday night’s breakdowns for Minnesota.
Junior James Gaulrapp made the play singlehandedly, stealing the puck from Minnesota’s Jake Hansen at the blue line and going in alone before deking Kangas and easily shoveling the shorthanded goal into the right side of the net. Gaulrapp’s goal was his second of the season.
Early in the second period came the game’s pivotal moments. The Gophers — already missing Tony Lucia and Brian Schack — lost two more players for the rest of the game thanks to hits from behind. The first was committed by Nico Sacchetti and the second by captain Ryan Stoa, who put a shoulder into Davis’ back near the end boards.
Both were given five-minute majors and the obligatory game misconducts, giving MSU over three minutes of five-on-three hockey. But Minnesota killed both penalties until Irwin got caught on a slash to end the threat.
“Could have been disastrous,” said Jutting of the failed five-on-three opportunity. “But to the kids’ credit, they didn’t let it get to them, and it didn’t become the momentum swing it could have been.”
Zacharias kept the clamps on Minnesota’s offense early in the third period with a nice blocker save on Aaron Ness, but at 5:09 the Gophers broke through.
Operating behind the MSU net, Ryan Flynn flipped a no-look pass out front to Patrick White. His stuff attempt was saved by Zacharias, but White followed the rebound across the crease and deposited his fifth goal of the season to draw Minnesota within one.
But MSU held fast on defense with a conservative approach, frustrating further scoring chances. With two minutes to go, Jay Barriball had the best chance to tie for the Gophers, but missed the top corner from short range.
Minnesota pulled Kangas after an icing by MSU with 1:18 left but had difficulty keeping possession, and Zach Harrison put away the empty-netter for the Mavericks to account for the final.
“It was great to get the wins,” said Jutting, “but probably even more importantly, the kids are starting to understand how we need to play and what we need to do.”
Minnesota hosts Wisconsin next Friday and Saturday, while Minnesota State is off until a series at North Dakota Feb. 13-14.