ST. PAUL, Minn. — How long does it take for a hockey game to change?
If you were to ask Colorado College, the Tigers might answer “five minutes” as it took the Tigers just under that to score twice in the second period en route to a 2-0 victory over No. 1-seed Minnesota at the Xcel Energy Center Friday night and punch their ticket to the WCHA Final Five title game against Wisconsin.
2013 WCHA Final Five
Follow all our coverage of the WCHA postseason at Playoff Central
A previously scoreless game changed just 59 seconds into the middle frame when Rylan Schwartz got loose in the high slot. After grabbing the puck, Schwartz took a quick look at the Gophers’ goal and wristed a shot that beat Adam Wilcox over the right shoulder.
“Scoring the first goal in any game is important, especially in the playoffs here,” said Schwartz. “At first, I was hoping that [Peter] Stoykewych was going to see me, which he did. I wasn’t sure where the goalie was. I kind of threw one high and thankfully, it went in.”
Just under 3 1/2 minutes later, the Tigers struck again. A turnover just inside the Gophers’ blue line allowed Alexander Krushelnyski to push the puck to Charlie Taft, who fired a low shot that found its way through Wilcox at 4:24.
The Gophers (26-8-5) came out skating hard right from the opening faceoff. Mike Reilly had the games’ first good scoring chance 1:35 in when he was fed the puck in the slot, but his one-timer was stopped by Joe Howe.
“Joe Howe is giving them the kind of goaltending they need this time of the year,” said Gophers’ coach Don Lucia. “We obviously didn’t do enough to put ourselves in a position to win tonight, certainly from an offensive standpoint.”
Howe continued his hot hand from the WCHA quarterfinal win over North Dakota by stopping 11 more attempts from the Gophers in the first period.
Shortly after the Tigers’ second goal, the Gophers got a pair of shorthanded breakaways from Nick Bjugstad and Erick Haula, but neither could solve the senior goaltender, who seemed determined to carry his team to the title game by any means necessary.
“Coming into the weekend, our goal was to win Friday and put ourselves in a position Saturday to win a championship,” Minnesota winger Zach Budish said. “We didn’t take care of business tonight.”
In the final frame, Gophers forward Sam Warning, who missed last weekend’s series with Bemidji State, had perhaps the game’s best scoring chance when he got a pass on the back door. Unfortunately for the sellout crowd, he whiffed on the one-timer.
The Gophers were awarded a five-minute power play 4:50 into the third when Joe Marciano dumped Tom Serratore hard into the boards. Despite having the advantage of the extra skater, the Gophers allowed the Tigers (18-18-5) to clear the puck 11 times in that span.
The Tigers held the Gophers to just one shot during that sequence.
“We can get into a good rhythm,” said Owens. “We have six forwards that we really have confidence in [penalty] killing. Rylan and [Krushelnyski] are really in a good place killing right now.”
Lucia pulled Wilcox for extra attacker with 3:12 left to go, but the Tigers worked hard to keep the puck along the boards. When they did lose control of the puck, they did a great job of keeping Howe’s sightlines clear.
Howe finished the night with 35 saves to earn the shutout, while Wilcox made 18 saves in the loss for the Gophers.
Courtesy Minnesota Athletics