Pioneers Nearing Second Straight Title Game

Special teams are ruling the day in the first Frozen Four semifinal, and Denver is taking a three-goal lead into the third period.

Luke Fulghum scored a pair of power-play goals in the first period and Matt Carle added one on the man advantage in the second to give Denver a 3-0 lead over Colorado College, but the Tigers responded with a power-play goal of their own, a Brian Salcido shot off Carle’s skate to break a long scoreless drought against Denver and cut their deficit to 3-1.

Gabe Gauthier has Denver's fourth goal of the semifinal against CC (photo: Melissa Wade).

Gabe Gauthier has Denver’s fourth goal of the semifinal against CC (photo: Melissa Wade).

Gabe Gauthier, however, scored Denver’s fourth power-play goal of the game with 9.5 seconds left in the second period to give the Pioneers a 4-1 lead after 40 minutes at Value City Arena.

The Pioneers are 20 minutes away from a spot in a second straight national championship game. The defending champions are being outshot 27-17, but freshman Peter Mannino has turned away some great CC chances to keep his team ahead.

In what is probably the biggest of the 255 meetings between the Front Range rivals, Denver has looked more composed and has made the most of its power-play chances.

Carle, a sophomore defenseman, made the Pioneers 3-for-5 on the power play with his 13th goal of the season just over six minutes into the second period. His slapshot from the top of the zone went straight through traffic and past CC goaltender Curtis McElhinney.

But the Tigers responded, scoring just after the end of a 5-on-3 advantage when Salcido’s shot deflected off Carle’s left skate in front of the net and through Mannino’s pads.

It was CC’s first goal against Denver in 153 minutes, 52 seconds and its first against Mannino in 172:22.

Gauthier, the MVP of the Northeast Regional, restored Denver’s three-goal lead with his fourth goal in his last two NCAA games. He had a hat trick against New Hampshire in the regional final and added what appeared to be a backbreaker late in the second, firing a wrist shot from the right faceoff dot high past McElhinney.

Gauthier became the first player since Minnesota’s Thomas Vanek in 2003 to score eight points in the national tournament.

CC’s Braydon Cox had a breakaway in the final five minutes of the second period with a chance to cut the Tigers’ deficit to one goal, but he fired his shot directly into Mannino’s chest and got a penalty on the play when he slashed the goaltender.

Mannino has 26 saves through two periods, while McElhinney, the West Region’s first-team All-American, has stopped 13 shots.

Fulghum scored a power-play goal 13:54 into the opening period. He drove in from the neutral zone, got around Tigers defenseman Lee Sweatt and flipped the puck past McElhinney.

Less than two minutes later, a Brett Skinner power-play shot from the right point glanced off Fulghum’s breezers and floated past McElhinney to give the Pioneers a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes.

The Pioneers will take a power play, their eighth of the game, into the third period.