MINNEAPOLIS — Erik Haula’s power-play goal just under five minutes into the final period allowed No. 5 Minnesota to escape with a 4-2 win on Friday, despite an otherwise lackluster performance in front of 9,402 at Mariucci Arena.
The goal came mere seconds after Minnesota State’s Michael Dorr wristed a short-handed scoring chance just wide, which would have given the Mavericks their first lead of the night.
“Obviously that’s the turning point in the game,” said Minnesota State coach Troy Jutting. “We miss a breakaway and they score on a one-time slap shot from the blue line without a screen.
“That’s a 10 second difference that could have been the exact opposite, a huge momentum [shift] for us.”
“All the momentum is on our side and you think he’s going to put it in,” said MSU sophomore defenseman Zach Palmquist, who had an assist in the game. “Unfortunately, it goes the other way and they put one in.
“It’s a swing of the game, it happens, and you’ve just got to deal with it as a player, and we didn’t respond there in the third period.”
Defenseman Nate Schmidt earned his team-leading 17th assist of the season on the game-winning goal, while Nick Bjugstad’s assist on the play gives him at least a point in six straight games. Kent Patterson stopped 26 Minnesota State shots for his nation-leading 12th win of the season.
Senior goaltender Austin Lee took the loss for the Mavericks, despite also making 26 saves, while Evan Mosey and Jean-Paul Lafontaine each scored for Minnesota State (3-11-1, 2-8-1 WCHA).
Minnesota (12-4-1, 9-2-0 WCHA) opened the scoring less than two minutes into the game on senior captain Taylor Matson’s fourth goal of the season. Matson fed Nate Condon coming through the neutral zone and followed his linemate into the MSU zone, where he picked up Condon’s drop pass and beat Lee with a wrist shot from the right circle at 1:38 of the first period.
However, the goal did nothing to prevent what has recently become Minnesota’s weekly Friday-night funk — the Gophers have not won on a Friday since beating North Dakota, 2-0, on November 4. With the exception of a late-period shift by their top power-play unit with Minnesota State’s Zach Lehrke off for boarding, the Gophers showed little spark in the opening 20 minutes.
“It kind of looked like a boring game,” said Haula. “The pace of the game was kind of slow, and we kind of dropped to their level, and we weren’t able to play fast like we want to.”
The Mavericks, on the other hand, came out like a team with something to prove, playing physical and winning puck races, and ultimately tied the game on Mosey’s first goal of the season at 8:04. Mosey carried the puck from his own end and crossed the Minnesota line before firing a shot which skipped off the ice in the slot and past Patterson.
“I didn’t think our battle level was real high tonight,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “It’s not just physical but, I mean, some of the stick battles we weren’t winning, and we made mistakes along the way and mentally it wasn’t an easy night for us.
“It’s finding a way to win some nights and, at the end of the year, these are important points because they easily could have won the game tonight.”
Each team had glorious short-handed scoring opportunities in the game, beginning with Minnesota State’s Justin Jokinen bearing down on Patterson, who calmly gloved the Mavericks forward’s shot at 3:32.
With Minnesota’s Zach Budish off for boarding early in the second, MSU defenseman Joe Schiller inadvertently fed Haula in stride at the Mavericks’ blue line, but Lee was equal to the task and made the save.
“They take a lot of chances offensively short-handed,” Haula said of the Mavericks, who had scored three short-handed goals in the six games leading up to the Minnesota series. “[We] kind of knew that they were going to come, but also that creates more room for us, so it goes kind of both ways.
“We’ve got to sharpen up tomorrow and make sure we don’t give up a short-handed goal.”
A late first-period penalty put the Mavericks up a man to begin the second and MSU nearly cashed in 30 seconds later, but Patterson got a toe on Max Gaede’s point-blank attempt at the left post.
Minnesota’s fourth line put the Gophers back in front at 3:38 of the second period when Nick Larson’s sharp-angle shot from close range somehow trickled its way through Lee, who was hugging the short-side post.
However, the Mavericks answered back midway through the period after Lafontaine pounced on a loose puck down low and fired a shot over a sea of bodies in the Minnesota crease created by teammate Zach Palmquist. Palmquist had driven to the net from the right corner and got a shot off before he was shoved into Patterson by Bjugstad, who also fell.
The play was reviewed for possible goaltender interference, but Palmquist was certain the goal would count.
“My coach was asking me on the bench what happened,” said Palmquist. “I told him I got pushed from behind and there’s no doubt in my mind that it should have been a goal.”
Minnesota’s Jake Hansen’s sixth of the season at 19:23 of the third period into an empty net provided the game’s final margin.
“You could see that now that Minnesota State has a healthier lineup, they’re a much better team than their record,” said Lucia. “They came in and played a very good game, a very sound game, tonight, and made us work for the win.”
While Jutting agreed that the Mavericks are playing better as their health improves, there is plenty of work still to be done.
“There’s a lot of young kids out there in critical situations that made some plays, but also made some mistakes,” said Jutting. “So we’re improving but we have to continue to improve.”
The win gives Minnesota its first win at home against Minnesota State in over four years. The in-state rivals square off once again in tomorrow night’s 7 p.m. series finale, also in Minneapolis.