ST. PAUL, Minn. — When Minnesota got up three goals on North Dakota just past the midway point of Sunday’s West Region final, the Gophers kept their foot on the gas pedal.
Unlike the WCHA Final Five semifinal, in which the Gophers blew a three-goal lead to UND, Minnesota finished the game and went on to win 5-2 at the Xcel Energy Center to advance to the Frozen Four.
“It was far different this weekend than last weekend as the game went along,” said Gophers’ coach Don Lucia. “You have that sense of how the team was playing. I was pretty relaxed.
“We played North Dakota six times this year and beat them four times. That is not easy to do.”
Minnesota faces the Boston College/Minnesota-Duluth winner April 5 at the St. Petersburg Times Forum in Tampa, Fla. It will be Minnesota’s first appearance in the Frozen Four since 2005 when the Gophers lost 4-2 to UND in the semifinals.
The Gophers jumped out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Ben Marshall in the first period and Erik Haula 20 seconds into the second period. Danny Kristo pulled the Sioux to within a goal when he picked up the puck in the slot, turned around and wristed it over Kent Patterson’s glove at the 1:43 mark.
The Gophers answered the call with goals by Taylor Matson at 9:08 and Travis Boyd at 14:28. Boyd’s was the first of his career after he clanked one off the crossbar in last week’s loss to UND. But unlike that game, the Gophers drove the dagger into the heart of North Dakota on a Nate Condon goal with 4:07 to seal Minnesota’s trip to Florida.
Minnesota got key goals from non-typical goal scorers all weekend. All three members of the third line – Condon (11 goals), Boyd (one goal) and Matson (eight goals) – found the net Sunday. Marshall’s goal in the first period was his fourth of the season.
“We’ve had great chemistry throughout this whole week of practice,” Matson said. “Last week we had a lot of chances as well and we just missed some of those chances. Our game plan tonight was to keep playing hard and when we got those chances, we just capitalized on them.”
Matson had not scored in the previous 17 games.
“We knew we needed to get more scoring,” Lucia said. “We toyed with it the week before. After last week, we thought, ‘Let’s try it.’ We had a full week of practice. It was a concern moving a freshman up the middle with how well he would defend.”
Meanwhile, Patterson finished with 24 saves for the Gophers, 14 of them in the third period, and Aaron Dell stopped 19 shots for UND.
“Like I said, it’s impossible to try to, at this point in time, put the season into perspective,” said North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol. “If we could sit down and do this in 48 hours, I probably would do a much better job of it.”
It was UND’s first loss in the month of March since 2010 when the Sioux lost in the regional semifinals.
“I think the difference was the second period where they took advantage of some momentum after we went 2-1,” Hakstol said. “Had we been able to push that to a 2-2 game or take a one-goal game into the third period, it would’ve been much different.”