One night after St. Cloud State took a punch to the mouth from Minnesota, Huskies’ coach Bob Motzko said the key was to absorb the blow and react from it.
SCSU punched back with a 4-3 victory Saturday at the National Hockey and Event Center after Minnesota snapped SCSU’s six-game unbeaten streak with a 4-2 win the night before.
“Last night was an emotional game for us and we couldn’t handle it,” Motzko said. “We handled it well tonight. It was an exciting game. It was a big-time game in February.
“You have to be able to take a punch and you have to deliver them, too.”
Nic Dowd scored a goal with an assist and Ryan Faragher made 36 saves for the Huskies.
SCSU scored twice in the second period before Nate Schmidt put the Gophers on the board on the power play. The Huskies got two quick goals early in the third period before Minnesota rallied for two late goals.
SCSU struck first after a scoreless first period when Garrett Milan’s shot ricocheted off Minnesota goaltender Adam Wilcox and straight into the air. Joey Holka caught the puck, dropped it and whacked past Wilcox 2:39 into the second period.
Jimmy Murray, who missed on two breakaways during the weekend, got a two-on-one opportunity and dished the puck to Dowd, who snuck it past Wilcox’s glove for his 13th goal of the season with 2:12 left in the second.
“I thought Nic Dowd was the best player on the ice tonight,” Motzko said.
SCSU dealt Minnesota a great opportunity 18 seconds after goal when Drew LeBlanc and Nick Jensen both committed boarding penalties seconds apart in the same corner.
Both were assessed minor penalties, giving the Gophers a two-minute five-on-three.
Amid the scramble with Faragher sprawled out of position, SCSU defenseman Kevin Gravel saved a shot in the crease.
“I snuck in there and somehow, I was able to keep it out,” said Gravel, who finished with two assists. “With the guys [Minnesota] has and they’re on a five-on-three, you’re playing with desperation.”
The Huskies managed to kill off the first 62 seconds of the two-man advantage, but Nate Schmidt one-timed a shot past Faragher for his second goal of the weekend.
SCSU retaliated with two goals early in the third period – one by the team leader in goals, Jonny Brodzinski, on a slap shot from the blue line on a rush, and the other by LeBlanc on a breakaway while the Gophers were changing.
Both goals came in the first 6:40 of the third period to make it 4-1. Minnesota had been down by that margin in St. Cloud and battled back in 4-3 loss in Nov. 2011.
“It was big that we popped those two goals in, but of course, we like to make it interesting,” Gravel said.
The Gophers made another final charge Saturday.
Nick Bjugstad unleashed a rocket slap shot from the left dot that beat Faragher high with 9:07 left. Nate Condon scored on a rebound off a Mark Alt shot from the point 3:33 later.
Gophers’ coach Don Lucia pulled Wilcox after a Minnesota timeout with 1:25 left, but Zach Budish was called for hooking with 35 seconds on the clock to put a dent in Minnesota’s chances.
“The last few weeks, the teams we’ve had to play made us a better team,” Lucia said. “There’s no shame in coming up here and losing by a goal.”
Faragher finished with 36 saves and Wilcox had 17 for Minnesota. The Gophers have outshot the Huskies in six straight games going back to Oct. 2010.
“We had good opportunities, good looks, but their goaltender played very well tonight,” Lucia said. “He was probably the difference in the game.”
The eighth-ranked Huskies sit atop the WCHA standings with 31 points, three ahead of second place North Dakota. The Gophers and Nebraska-Omaha are tied for third place at 26 points.
“We were hopeful we could get three points this weekend, but we won last night and played our butts off tonight,” Lucia said. “Games like this make you better.”
“Everything is magnified in these games in February,” Motzko added. “Everybody wants home ice [and] everyone’s fighting like mad dogs to get it.”