ST. CLOUD, Minn. — At stake Friday night at the National Hockey Center: Minnesota-Duluth, a chance to tie for first in the WCHA, and St. Cloud State, a chance to remain in the hunt for home ice in the league playoffs.
St. Cloud State made the most of the opportunity by knocking off No. 2 UMD, 2-1, before 5,073 fans.
The Huskies (15-16-4 and 12-12-3 in WCHA) took 1-0 and 2-0 leads and then held off the top-scoring team in Division I, helped by 35 saves from junior goalie Mike Lee, who has sparked the Huskies the past few weeks after returning from hip surgery.
The Bulldogs (22-8-5 and 16-7-4) knew that first-place Minnesota had lost, 4-1, at home to Wisconsin, and that a Minnesota-Duluth victory would create a tie for the lead with one game left in the regular season.
Yet UMD saw a five-game unbeaten streak end, facing the Huskies for the first time this season, and the first time since eliminating St. Cloud State in the first round of the 2011 WCHA playoffs at Amsoil Arena.
“Our regular season came down to one game, tonight (Friday), we had to win and then see if there was something to play for (Saturday),” said St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko, whose team is 5-2 the last seven games. “This was one of our better games. We competed, our penalty kill was good, Mike Lee was outstanding and our defense was solid. We had momentum in waves, but I don’t think we dominated the game.”
The Huskies are tied with Nebraska-Omaha for sixth in the league, for the final home playoff spot for next weekend’s best-of-three first round. Minnesota-Duluth could still tie for the regular-season title, but will be the No. 2 playoff seed and face Minnesota State-Mankato in the first round at Amsoil Arena.
The Bulldogs had their chances, but didn’t play their best until the third period. Junior winger Keegan Flaherty tipped a Wade Bergman point drive out of the air while positioned at the left edge of the net with 9:59 to play.
“We came out feeling good about last week (a home sweep of Colorado College) and were just not mentally ready to play for two periods, and that’s unacceptable,” said Flaherty. “Every game is going to be a grind at this time of the season, everyone’s fighting for their lives, and we need that kind of mentality.
“St. Cloud is a skilled team and they played well, and we didn’t find ourselves until the third period. We needed that earlier.”
Although UMD led 8-6 in shots on goal in the first period, St. Cloud State had the better of play. The Huskies went up 1-0 with 5:15 left in the period when a Nick Oliver attempt from the left circle tipped off the stick of linemate Brooks Bertsch. The puck changed direction and baffled goalie Kenny Reiter, hitting the net to the near side.
Center Travis Novak, who hit a pipe and missed on a short-handed breakaway, put in a power-play rebound at 6:51 of the second period for a 2-0 lead.
The Bulldogs had two second-period power plays and one in the third, but finished 0-of-5 after going four-of-eight a week ago against Colorado College.
“St. Cloud played like a desperate team, and we played like a team happy with where we were (in the standings). We had plenty of opportunities to get more than one goal,” said Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin. “We played average on a night where we were going for a league title, something you battle all year for.
“We didn’t execute well on the power play. We were slow. We have to get hungrier.”
UMD pulled Reiter for an extra attacker with 31 seconds to play, and got some chances, and finished with a 36-24 shots-on-goal advantage.
The Bulldogs last won on the National Hockey Center Olympic ice on March 9, 2007, in the WCHA playoffs, and are 2-11-1 the last seven years at the rink.