MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota scored three second-period goals, including two on the power play, leading to a 4-1 victory over St. Cloud State in the first game of the teams’ WCHA quarterfinal series Friday night.
“Good way to start off the playoffs, a hard-fought win there tonight,” Gophers’ coach Brad Frost said.
Meghan Lorence led the offense with a goal and two assists, while Rachel Bona and Hannah Brandt each had a pair of helpers for the Gophers (33-1-1, 26-1-1-0 WCHA).
Bona’s first assist gave her 100 points in her career.
The Huskies (4-26-5, 3-21-4-2 WCHA) were able to clog the game up to their liking over the first 20 minutes.
“We executed good,” SCSU coach Jeff Giesen said. “We took away time and space – great gaps. I thought we did a great job. Against a team like this, you want to keep shortening the game and get it down to a one-shot situation.”
But as has often happened over the season, Minnesota got going in the second period. Menefee opened the scoring just 25 seconds into the session.
“Luckily, we could turn it up a notch in the second there and get a couple,” Lorence said.
Lorence attempted a wraparound, and SCSU goalie Julie Friend foiled the attempt, but thought she still had the puck. Instead, it slid to Menefee in front with plenty of open net to shoot at.
“Julie just kind of gets caught on her back there and they just got one laying out front – it’s an easy tap in,” Giesen said. “That’s a heartbreaker, but we rallied back from that pretty good.”
St. Cloud State stopped Minnesota’s first power-play opportunity, but the Gophers cashed in on the next two, with Bona getting the primary assist on each. She got the puck to Lorence in front and the junior flipped the puck to the top of the net for her 17th goal of the season at 14:25.
“Everybody can put five pretty good players out on the ice,” Giesen said. “They can put five pretty great players out on the ice and that becomes the difference.”
Three minutes later, Kate Schipper converted to up the lead to 3-0, but this time, the Huskies were able to respond with a goal of their own with just under two minutes remaining until the second intermission.
Cari Coen and Molli Mott set up Julia Gilbert for the senior’s ninth goal of the year.
“Frustrated that we gave one up there towards the end of the second, especially after we get up three,” Frost said. “You don’t want to give one up late.”
Rachel Ramsey restored the three-goal lead on a shot from the point with three minutes gone in the final frame and that ended the scoring.
The Minnesota power play finished two-for-three on the night, while the Huskies were unable to convert on their two chances. It could have been worse, as Friend was called on to stop two Gophers’ breakaways while shorthanded.
“They’re frustrated [and] we’re frustrated as coaches,” Giesen said. “Just getting the thing going has been trials and tribulations.”
After being quiet earlier in the year, Minnesota’s line of Brandt centering Lorence and Menefee has been hitting the net regularly in recent weeks.
“We always seem to find each other pretty well, just in the slot,” Lorence said.
Menefee has five goals in her last three games.
“I think I’ve been finding open space in front of the net a lot,” she said. “My linemates are doing great with getting me the puck.”
The line could have done even more damage, but for the efforts of Friend, who finished with 39 saves.
“She played really well,” Menefee said. “She played a really great game, too.”
Minnesota will look to close out the series as the puck drops on game two at 4:07 p.m. CST at Ridder Arena.
“Playoffs are so much fun, and I love it, enjoy every second I get to play in it,” Menefee said. “I think everyone brings a whole new level during the playoffs.”