MINNEAPOLIS — Zach Lehrke scored twice on the power play for Minnesota State and goaltender Austin Lee turned aside 37 Minnesota shots, but it wasn’t enough as the Gophers held off the Mavericks’ comeback bid to complete a sweep with a 3-2 win in front of 9,710 on a snowy Saturday night at Mariucci Arena.
JP Lafontaine assisted on both Lehrke goals giving him three points (1-2-3) in the series.
The Gophers (13-4-1, 10-2-0 WCHA) received two-point efforts from Seth Ambroz (goal, assist), Taylor Matson (goal, assist), and Zach Budish (two assists) on Saturday to defeat their in-state rival to the south.
Goalie Kent Patterson earned the win with 26 saves in a penalty-filled contest which included three unsportsmanlike conduct calls in the game’s first six minutes.
The teams combined for 44 minutes in penalties including 22 in the first period alone. Minnesota State (3-12-1, 2-9-1 WCHA) was 2-for-9 with the man advantage, while Minnesota’s power play was 1-for-5.
“I thought it was obviously important for us to get off to a great start, which we did,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “We hit some pipes, so we couldn’t build on that lead and then we had a couple whiffs.
“We got into penalty problems and allowed them to get back in the game, but I like the way we closed out the third.”
For the second straight night, No. 5 Minnesota jumped out to an early lead courtesy of Ambroz’s third goal of the season at 2:37 of the first period. Camped out near the left edge of the crease, Ambroz batted his own rebound over Lee’s right pad after a feed from Budish.
“I like those little greasy goals,” said Ambroz. “Being in front of the net is a place you’ve got to pay the price to get dirty goals.”
“He scored the type of goal he needs to score, right around the net,” Lucia said of Ambroz. “We haven’t had enough of those lately.”
The Mavericks nearly potted the equalizer less than two minutes later when an Adam Mueller pass sprung Justin Jokinen in alone on Patterson after the senior forward slipped between and behind Minnesota’s defense, but Patterson’s quick glove preserved the Minnesota lead.
The breakaway was one of at least five thwarted by Patterson on the weekend, including Matt Leitner’s effort seven minutes into the second period that Patterson turned away with his blocker.
“Credit their guy in net,” said Minnesota State coach Troy Jutting. “You change momentum when you score on things like that and you build momentum if you stop plays like that.
Nearing the halfway mark of the opening period, Matson scored his fifth of the year and second of the series with an ‘assist’ from Lee, of all people. Lee’s deflection of a Nate Condon pass intended for Ambroz went right to Matson who turned and beat Lee with a wrist shot from the left circle.
In all fairness to Lee, however, MSU’s senior goaltender was called upon to make several big stops on the night, including back-to-back saves on Jake Hansen and Christian Isackson in the first, as well as gobbling up a Condon one-timer early in the second.
But there’s no disputing Lee’s most spectacular effort of the night coming with just under four minutes to go in the second.
Minnesota’s Kyle Rau let go of a low shot from between the circles that bounced up off the right post and hit high off the right post. With the puck seemingly suspended in midair, Lee swung his left arm behind him batting the puck out of harm’s way with his catching glove.
“I saw it go off the post and I just threw my hand back there and got the puck,” said Lee. “I was just trying to keep [the deficit] at three goals after that first period, just trying to keep it a game, and they guys responded.”
The Gophers extended their lead to three before the first intermission when defenseman Mark Alt found Rau open just below the left hash mark where the freshman re-directed Alt’s cross-ice pass past Lee for his 11th of the season at 18:41.
Lehrke scored early in the each of the final two periods, the second on 5-on-3 advantage with a pretty one-timer set up by Lafontaine four minutes into the third. The shot was one of just four in the third period for the Mavericks as their rally fell just short of the mark.
“We obviously dug ourselves a little bit too big of a hole there,” said Jutting.
“They kind of climbed their way back into the game, but the bottom line is we got two more wins at home and they’re important wins for us,” said Lucia.
After two tight losses, the Mavericks must certainly feel they left points on the table this weekend, but encouragingly, they gave themselves a chance to win on consecutive nights against a ranked opponent on the road.
“Yesterday, we came out kind of flat and we knew we got away with one,” said Ambroz of Minnesota’s 4-2 win on Friday. “They have a good team over there and they’re a lot better than what their record shows.
“We knew they were going to come out physical and we had to match their intensity, if not be better.”
“Minnesota’s a very good, so we’ll look back at this weekend and we’ll hopefully see it as a turning point in our season,” said Lee.