MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Goals by Nick Larson and Kyle Rau in the final 6:04 of the third period erased a one-goal deficit and lifted No. 5 Minnesota to a 3-2 win over No. 15 North Dakota on Saturday in front of the tenth-largest crowd (10,234 paid) in Mariucci Arena history.
The win gives the Gophers a series sweep over the Fighting Sioux.
Nick Bjugstad scored for the second straight night and added an assist while Zach Budish chipped in a pair of assists.
Minnesota (9-1-0, 6-0-0 WCHA) is off to its best start since the 2006-07 season when the Gophers started the year 19-1-3. North Dakota (3-6-1, 1-5 WCHA), conversely, is off to its worst conference start since the Sioux lost nine of 10 to open the 1974-75 conference schedule.
Trailing 2-1 late in the third period, Minnesota’s Travis Boyd fed Larson down low who swatted the puck under Sioux goaltender Aaron Dell to knot the score at 2-2. The goal was the second of the weekend for Minnesota’s fourth line.
“We created some good chances and we kept telling ourselves ‘just keep going to the net, keep making plays, and sooner or later it’s going to go in’,” said Larson.
“I thought our fourth line gave us good energy all weekend long,” said Gophers coach Don Lucia. “They scored the huge goal on Friday night, (Tom) Serratore’s goal, and obviously getting that tying goal to make it 2-2 is huge with six minutes to go.
“If we got into overtime, that was probably one of the three lines we were going to use tonight.”
But Rau and his linemates made that a moot point.
With under a minute to go, Bjugstad shot the puck into traffic in front of Dell where Rau managed to corral Zach Budish’s rebound and lift the puck over the sprawled Sioux goalie with just 45.8 seconds showing on the clock.
The goal tied Rau, named national rookie of the month for October, with Bjugstad for the team goal-scoring lead with eight.
“It was an unbelievable feeling,” said Rau of his winning goal. “We’ve got a lot of confidence right now and that adds to it, which is good.”
“That’s his history,” said Lucia of Rau. “Great players make great plays at critical moments of games and he’s done that all his life.”
Dell gave his team a chance to win for the second night in a row, but was denied a win despite making 39 saves including 15 on Minnesota power plays. North Dakota held Minnesota’s nation-leading power-play unit to one goal on 14 combined opportunities in the two games this weekend.
A night after shutting out the Sioux, 2-0, Minnesota goaltender Kent Patterson made just 17 saves, but more than a few were critical. Patterson waited until late in the game to make his best save of the weekend, stopping Brock Nelson at the doorstep as he attempted to bury a Ben Blood pass to finish a UND three-on-one with 3:27 to play in a tie game.
“He didn’t have to make a lot of saves, but he had to make some timely saves,” said Lucia. “It’s a save like that that gives you a chance to win at the end.”
Minnesota got on the board first as Bjugstad scored his second of the series and eighth of the season at 7:09 of the opening period batting in a rebound Dell was unable to control.
But just 2:37 later, with Seth Ambroz serving an interference penalty, the Sioux struck back with their first goal of the weekend. Nelson rifled a wrist shot from the right circle over Patterson’s left shoulder only eight seconds into the power play.
The Gophers dominated the first period everywhere, but the scoreboard in outshooting the Sioux, 19-5.
Near the end of a second-period Minnesota five-on-three advantage, Jake Hansen shoved Blood behind Dell and into the UND net, drawing an interference penalty at 8:18.
On the ensuing power play, Rocco Grimaldi, the WCHA’s preseason rookie of the year, recorded his first career goal, beating Patterson with a wrist shot from the high slot at 8:39 to give the Sioux their only lead of the series.
The sweep is Minnesota’s first over North Dakota since a pair of 4-3 wins at Ralph Engelstad Arena on Dec. 9-10, 2005, and the first regular-season home sweep over the Sioux since 1996-97. The win raises the Gophers’ record in the all-time series with the Sioux to 142-128-14, including 78-52-6 at home.
“It was a great finishing touch to a great weekend,” said Larson. “We were able to battle back there and we had faith the whole time. That’s what we practice hard for, we were ready for it, and Kyle came up huge for us.”
North Dakota is idle next week before traveling to Bemidji for a Saturday-Sunday series with the Beavers Nov. 19-20. Minnesota is back on the road next week for a pair of 7:00 pm CST games Nov. 11-12 at Wisconsin.