DULUTH, Minn. — If Minnesota Duluth has learned anything in three earlier games against Denver this season, it’s this: outshooting a team doesn’t guarantee a win and taking penalties isn’t a good idea.
Entering Saturday’s Western Collegiate Hockey Association game at the DECC, Denver had beaten UMD in all three meetings, despite being outshot in all three.
UMD finally reversed that trend in a 4-2 victory before a sellout crowd of 5,323.
The No. 14-ranked Bulldogs (15-9-6 and 9-8-5 WCHA) got a quick first-period three-goal lead, including a power-play score, and shut down first-place Denver on the man advantage. The Pioneers (17-9-3 and 13-7-2) had won 4-3 Friday with four power-play goals.
“We knew that we had them when the game was five-on-five Friday; the game was there for the taking and we let it get away,” said UMD defenseman Josh Meyers, who had three assists. “[Saturday] we held them to almost nothing on their power play and we scored one and another one right after a power play ended.
“This was a must win for us if we wanted to stay in the running in the top half of the conference.”
The victory put UMD alone in fifth in the WCHA, pending the outcome of St. Cloud State’s late game at Alaska Anchorage, while Minnesota dropped to sixth after being swept at home by Wisconsin. The Badgers are tied with Denver for first place.
Saturday’s game matched the WCHA’s top-ranked goalies for all games: UMD junior Alex Stalock and Denver sophomore Marc Cheverie.
The Bulldogs got to Cheverie early on the way to a 3-0 lead in the first period and 3-1 edge through 20 minutes, with goals from MacGregor Sharp, Evan Oberg and Drew Akins.
“We just needed to keep coming at them, keep getting pucks on them, and do a better job on special teams,” said UMD center Michael Gergen, who scored a goal.
Sharp connected one second after a UMD power play ended 8:25 into the game, from the right circle, and then goals 86 seconds apart gave UMD a cushion. Defenseman Oberg smacked a shot from the high slot with 7:32 left for a power-play goal and Akins handcuffed Cheverie from the left side with 6:06 to go.
The eighth-ranked Pioneers got into the game when Kyle Ostrow scored with 2:34 remaining in the first period.
As the Pioneers tried to get closer, UMD got the only goal of the second period. Gergen broke his stick on the start of a shift, got another from Akins, and then drove a 70-foot shot from just inside the offensive blue line with 40 seconds left in the period. He beat Cheverie to the far side for his seventh goal of the season and a 4-1 lead.
“We had some momentum and then that goal took the wind out of us,” said Denver captain J.P. Testwuide. “We didn’t bury enough chances and they closed the door when they had to.”
The Pioneers did get a power-play goal, by Rhett Rakhshani at 4:55 of the third period, his team-leading 13th of the season, but that was it. Denver was one-of-eight on power plays and UMD led in shots on goal, 39-24.
The Bulldogs, 6-2 in their last eight games, are 10-2-3 at home with two games left in the regular season at the DECC. One dark moment for the Bulldogs came when Denver defenseman Patrick Mullen slashed UMD’s Mike Connolly during an empty-net rush as the game finished. Mullen received a slashing penalty and game misconduct, and Connolly will likely need an arm X-ray to determine any damage.
UMD is off this weekend before resuming at Michigan Tech on Feb. 20-21.