MINNEAPOLIS — Nate Condon scored a short-handed goal in the third period to propel No. 1 Minnesota to a 5-1 win over archrival No. 6 North Dakota on Friday.
Adam Wilcox stopped 24 shots as Minnesota took over sole possession of first place in the WCHA.
The game was closer than the final score. Three key turning points all seemed to go Minnesota’s way. In a 17-minute stretch the Gophers took a tie game to a four-goal lead and the best player on the ice was their goaltender.
The score was 3-1 with 5 minutes left in the game when the Gophers’ Tom Serratore took a two-minute offensive zone penalty for interference.
On the ensuing North Dakota power play, Condon picked up the puck after Joe Gleason broke his stick trying to take a shot. Condon was off to the races with the defender in close pursuit.
Condon got behind Gleason and buried the puck past Clarke Saunders for the nail in the coffin.
“There was no doubt I was going to the net,” Condon said. “There was no way I was going to pull up. I was surprised he did not get more body on me. I just slipped him a little.”
“It was a great play by Nate,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “It was one of those lucky breaks for us. Gleason’s stick broke. He had a good hockey IQ and attacked him one-on-one and was able to get around him because he didn’t have a stick and made a great shot.”
North Dakota was applying great pressure in the third before Condon’s critical goal. Wilcox stood tall, slamming the door on point-blank shots by Danny Kristo, Rocco Grimaldi and Carter Rowney as well as twice stonewalling Mark MacMillan in the second.
“Wilcox made a lot of big saves that we needed during the game,” Condon said. “A couple post-to-post [saves]. We have come to expect that from him. We cannot always bank on this.”
The second key turning point was with 6 seconds left in the second period. The Gophers’ Ben Marshall broke a 1-1 tie by pounding home the rebound of a shot by Seth Ambroz while on the power play. The late goal charged the crowd and the Gophers players.
“I thought we made a mistake on a line change at the end of the second period. That led to the upcoming power play and they capitalized,” North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol said. “That was a tough goal for us to give up late in the second.”
At 6:03 of the third Nate Schmidt gave Minnesota (17-3-3, 9-3-3 WCHA) the critical separation on a seeing-eye goal through heavy traffic, including a screen by Nick Bjugstad. Erik Haula, who had just returned from an injury, was credited with the first assist, his 100th collegiate point.
The game opened up in the second. Michael Parks put North Dakota (13-7-3, 8-4-3) on the board at 3:34 with a power-play goal. Corban Knight fed the puck to Parks, whose tip deflected off Minnesota defenseman Seth Helgeson and past Wilcox.
The assist ran Knight’s point-scoring streak to 18 games.
Zach Budish tied the game at 6:06 by beating Saunders high over the blocker on a shot from 30 feet out.
“I thought that when the game started it was kind of tentative on both sides,” Lucia said. “It was cautious. Nobody wanted to make a mistake. I thought the game got better as it went along. Obviously, getting that first goal for us to tie it 1-1 was critical, and to continue and get that next goal at the end of the second period. That was a big one, to be able to carry that lead into the third. Obviously, getting that short-handed goal sealed it.”
The game started slowly. Both teams posted only two shots in the first 10 minutes of the period, none on a Minnesota power play.
The play opened up in the next 10 minutes with Minnesota having a slight advantage because of the second minor penalty on North Dakota.
“There was a lot [of tension],” Wilcox said. “These are the weekends we are really excited for. You can tell by the intensity of the practices is going up. Especially before the game in the locker room there was a lot of energy in there. It’s a whole different atmosphere especially with the crowd we had tonight.”
The teams will play their final regular season game as WCHA opponents at 5 p.m. CST Saturday as part of Hockey Day Minnesota.