MINNEAPOLIS — Clinging to a one-goal lead over St. Cloud State with less than six minutes to play, No. 3 Minnesota gave its guests every opportunity to score the equalizer.
But the Huskies were not the capitalists their hosts were on this night.
Not only did St. Cloud State (10-13-4, 7-9-3 WCHA) fail to score on either of its power-play opportunities in the game’s late stages, it didn’t register a shot and Minnesota (18-9-1, 14-5-0 WCHA) held on for a 2-1 victory in front of 10,088 at Mariucci Arena.
Minnesota’s Jake Hansen scored a goal and assisted on Nick Bjugstad’s game winner midway through the second period and the two goals stood up as, defensively, the Gophers limited the Huskies to just 13 shots on goal for the game, including a mere one shot in the entire third period.
It had all the feel of a well-played road win for Minnesota.
“It wasn’t a game that was up and down, it was a more cautious-played game, but we found a way to win,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “Like I told our guys, it doesn’t matter how you win, it’s just getting a big two points tonight.”
Gopher goaltender Kent Patterson’s 12-save effort is deceiving, however, in that when St. Cloud did get pucks to the net, there were several high-percentage chances. To their credit though, the Gophers did an outstanding job of not only denying Huskies’ shots, but clogging passing lanes.
“I thought the key was all the shots they blocked,” St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko said of Minnesota’s 13 blocked shots in the game. “You could hear [Minnesota's coaches] screaming on the bench ‘get in the lane.’”
“When we’re playing well, we’re doing those little things,” said Lucia. “We did some of them tonight and we need to do more of them tomorrow.”
St. Cloud State goaltender Mike Lee made his long-anticipated return to action after a three-month injury absence and was extremely sharp in making 24 saves. Seeing his first action since playing 64:35 in an Oct. 22 3-3 tie against New Hampshire in St. Cloud, Lee exhibited few signs of rust and appeared comfortable and confident despite the long layoff.
“Mike Lee looked like Mike Lee,” said Motzko. “He had good vision on a lot of pucks tonight.”
The teams combined for only five shots in the first 11 minutes of a slow-starting opening period, but Gophers took full advantage of a bad Huskies’ neutral-zone turnover to seize the game’s first lead.
The giveaway landed on the stick of the Gophers’ Erik Haula just outside the Huskies’ blue line, and he fed Hansen in stride entering the zone. Lee denied Hansen’s initial shot, but the rebound glanced off the Gophers forward’s shin and behind Lee at the 13:26 mark.
“I tried to go high glove there and it hit the goalie’s glove,” said Hansen. “I didn’t know where it was after that; I just saw it go in the net.”
“I thought Jake was real good, I thought he and Erik had great legs tonight,” said Lucia. “I thought some other guys looked heavy-legged tonight, but the right guys made the plays to win.”
Hanowski’s power-play goal on a beautiful cross-ice feed from the red-hot Andrew Prochno (one goal, 11 assists in his last eight games) tied the game at 1-1 at 4:26 of the second. The goal is junior forward’s team-leading 13th of the season.
Yet another costly Huskies’ turnover, however, ended up with Bjugstad finishing off a three-on-one with Kyle Rau and Hansen by burying his team-leading 21st of the season.
“We played good defense, there weren’t many quality chances either way,” said Motzko. “But it was the two turnovers, the two odd-man rushes, that they capitalized on.”
Motzko lamented the missed opportunities afforded the Huskies via the pair of power plays in the game’s waning minutes.
“It was poor puck movement,” Motzko said. “We win the draw on the first one and we’re wide open and we rung the puck back around the wall; we need to go tape-to-tape and have some patience.”
The Huskies suffered a devastating blow less than two minutes into the third period when center Travis Novak got tied up with Minnesota’s Nick Bjugstad along the boards in the St. Cloud zone. Novak went down awkwardly with his leg twisting underneath him and was helped off the ice after a long delay.
There was no word on Novak’s condition after the game but he was on crutches and wearing an immobilizer of some sort as he made his way to the team bus.
The Gophers defied recent history with just their eighth Friday night win in 14 tries (8-6-0), and will attempt to continue their Saturday night mastery (10-2-1, 9-0-0 WCHA) when the teams meet again tomorrow night at St. Cloud State’s National Hockey Center. The Huskies, on the other hand, have yet to sweep or be swept in a conference series this season.