Gophers offense erupts as playoff races heat up

This weekend saw two WCHA teams that have struggled to score goals lately, come close to wearing out the bulb in the red lamp.

St. Cloud State went up to Duluth and put eight goals (scored by seven different players) on the board against No. 3 Minnesota-Duluth in what turned out to be one of the most surprising upsets of the season.

The next day, after Minnesota could only get one of 37 shots past Denver goalie Sam Brittain the night before, the Gophers scored seven in another big upset over No. 4 Denver.

Seven different players scored for both the Gophers and several of them etched their names on the scoring sheet for the first time in a while.

Jacob Cepis scored for the first time in eight games and Nick Bjugstad scored his first goal in 10 games going back to Dec. 4. Before Haula scored Minnesota’s lone goal in Friday’s loss, the freshman hadn’t scored in 10 games going back to Nov. 28. He scored on Saturday as well.

These are guys that were expected to produce goals before the season started and will have to continue to pick up the slack, depending on how long it takes Minnesota’s leading goal scorer, Jay Barriball, to return from his knee injury.

Pat White also scored a goal Saturday, his first in 15 games, and Taylor Matson scored for the first time in 13 games.

Cade Fairchild has been one of Minnesota’s more consistent offensive players from the blue line as of late. He scored three times with six points in the past four games.

Sure, Minnesota’s three-goals-per-game average isn’t ugly and it wasn’t when it entered the DU series with a 2.95 GPG. It’s middle of the pack in the WCHA at worst, but Don Lucia made a good point on his weekly radio show Monday.

The Gophers D has done its job, holding opponents to two goals or less in regulation of home games since Thanksgiving weekend until Friday night. But Lucia pointed out his team was just 3-3-2 at Mariucci Arena during that stretch.

Minnesota has a favorable schedule to finish on in a final push for a home series in the first round of the WCHA Playoffs. The Gophers are in seventh place, a point out of the final home playoff spot which is held by Colorado College with 22 points.

This weekend’s series at Wisconsin is huge for Minnesota, which is three points back of the Badgers in fifth place. Minnesota will be in good shape if it has a good weekend because it finishes with Michigan Tech and Bemidji State.

The Gophers leaving Madison with three or four points is attainable but they’ll have to find a way to get the puck past UW goaltender Scott Gudmandson like Nebraska-Omaha did last weekend.

Gudmandson, who UNO proved to be human, hadn’t allowed more than two goals over a 13-game stretch going back Nov. 19.

Gudmandson will be ready to bounce back in a big-game atmosphere with 13,000 red-clad Badgers fans backing him.

The back of the Kohl Center’s nets have hardly been touched when Gudmandson’s in front. He has a 1.33 goals against average and a .966 save percentage at home this season.

That, aside from the Minnesota-Duluth disaster where Gudmandson allowed three goals on 10 shots and didn’t make it six minutes into the second before he was pulled.

Wisconsin went into Omaha with the opportunity to pass UNO in the standings but the two losses have more than likely knocked them out of MacNaughton Cup contention but still have a top-six playoff seed to play for.

Fifth-place Wisconsin is separated by just five points with ninth-place SCSU, which has 19 points. Alaska-Anchorage is in eighth place with 20 points and still has a chance at home ice but will have to make up the ground in four games.

Minnesota State has 18 points but with just four games left, which basically draws the curtain on any home playoff hopes.

UNO, meanwhile, went into last weekend on a rocky stretch. After they swept Wisconsin, the Mavericks are right back in the thick of the MacNaughton hunt, tied for third place with Minnesota-Duluth (30 points). North Dakota (32 points) took the top spot back with a sweep of UAA and Denver is in second with 31 points.

The top four is pretty much set with the Badgers six points back in fifth place. North Dakota is in good shape heading into the final three weeks with six games against three of the WCHA’s bottom four teams.

The Pioneers also have a favorable schedule with Michigan Tech and SCSU on the docket. UNO has to play Denver and UMD yet. The Bulldogs go to MSU and CC before they host UNO to end the season.