DULUTH, Minn. — If Minnesota Duluth wanted to advance to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Five and defend its playoff title, the Bulldogs could’ve done that with a victory over Colorado College on Saturday in their first-round series at the DECC.
No. 14-ranked UMD, after an overtime victory Friday, would’ve preferred to finish a sweep for its first two-game league playoff home win in 17 years.
If Colorado College wanted to extend its season, the Tigers needed to break a losing streak versus UMD and find a few goals.
The Tigers persevered, getting three second-period goals on the way to a 5-3 victory before a crowd of 3,956 to force a deciding game in the best-of-three series.
Fourth-line freshman right winger Scott Winkler broke a 3-3 tie with his first career goal at 5:17 of the third period, punching the puck past goalie Kenny Reiter at the left pipe. Nick Dineen added an empty-net goal with 16 seconds left. Colorado College (19-16-3) had the only goals of the third period.
Colorado College freshman goalie Joe Howe was stellar with 37 saves.
“We had to find a way to win,” said Howe, from Plymouth, Minn., and a former Edina High School player. “We lost some battles around their crease [Friday] and we had to get stronger there. We scored three goals there tonight. They had some lucky bounces and so did we. Things even out in the end.”
UMD (20-16-1) had won the last three games against the Tigers, all at the DECC this season, and was 6-1 the last seven games in the series, including a sweep in last year’s playoff first round in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Colorado College was 1-6 the last seven games coming into Saturday, averaging just over two goals a game in that stretch. UMD had a 40-31 shots on goal advantage.
The Bulldogs did lead 1-0 and 3-2, but the Tigers scored the final three goals and had their most goals in a month.
“They were playing for their lives and in the playoffs anything can happen,” said UMD junior defenseman Mike Montgomery. “We played well and their goalie was good. It was an up-and-down game.”
The Bulldogs got off to a good start, scoring the game’s first goal for a second straight night. Winger Mike Connolly connected from the slot on a Jack Connolly pass, on the game’s first shot on goal on a first power play at 2:37.
Offense took center stage in the second period with five goals, three by the Tigers, as the teams stood 3-3 after 40 minutes.
Colorado College struck twice in 57 seconds before the period was three minutes old. Cloquet winger Tyler Johnson stole the puck for a breakaway score past goalie Kenny Reiter at 1:26 and Addison DeBoer put in a rebound at 2:23.
UMD countered with power-play goals 3:37 apart for a 3-2 lead. Jordan Fulton converted a Montgomery rebound at 7:19 and Travis Oleksuk got his 10th goal of the season from the crease in a five-on-three situation. That made UMD three-of-four on power plays at that point.
The Tigers weren’t going away in a game at a frantic pace. Goal-scoring leader Mike Testwuide, Colorado College’s captain, got his 21st of the season on a power play with 4:08 left in the second period.
“We have to tighten up around our net, and bury our chances. It’s pretty simple,” said Fulton.
Winkler scored early in the third period, and then UMD had two power plays and put 19 shots on goal. Keegan Flaherty and Jack Connolly were stopped point blank by Howe in the waning seconds.
“We were a desperate team with a goal in sight of winning on the road and the guys gave it their extra all,” said Colorado College coach Scott Owens. “As bad as the last month has been for us, this is still a good team.”
UMD’s only other home WCHA playoff sweep since the best-of-three began was over Alaska Anchorage in 1993. In UMD’s last three home playoff series, against Minnesota State-Mankato in 2004, St. Cloud State in 2003 and Minnesota in 1998, the Bulldogs won each in three games.
“We had an opportunity to build on a [1-0] lead, but go out of rhythm,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “This is kind of how I thought the series would go. Howe has been the difference both nights.”