Three-goal first period sets tone for another Minnesota-Duluth win over Minnesota

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Minnesota-Duluth’s Adam Krause and Minnesota’s Brady Skjei get tangled up in the corner (photo: Melissa Wade).

MANCHESTER, N.H. — One of the most anticipated first-round matchups of the 2015 NCAA tournament hardly lived up to its billing.

No. 2 seed Minnesota-Duluth skated past in-state and former WCHA rival Minnesota 4-1 on Friday in a Northeast Regional game that wasn’t even as close as the final score said.

The Bulldogs survived a quick start by the Gophers and then scored three goals in a 5:59 span in the first to take control of the game.

By the time Minnesota’s Seth Ambroz scored for the Gophers to pull within three, there was less than five minutes remaining and the game’s conclusion was foregone.

“We started a little slow and Kaz [goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo] made a couple of saves the first part of the game, and then we kind of found our legs,” said Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin, whose team will face top-seeded Boston University, a 3-2 overtime victor over Yale on Friday, in Saturday’s regional final.

It was the fourth win in five tries this season for Minnesota-Duluth over Minnesota. And there was a key theme to all of those victories.

“It’s really important against any team and certainly our success against Minnesota is that in the four wins we scored the first goal,” Sandelin said. “We built off that tonight.”

A major factor in the game was the ability for the Bulldogs defense to activate in the offense. Two defensemen scored goals and the other two tallies were set up by key plays made by blueliners.

That isn’t exactly a staple in the Minnesota-Duluth offense, but the timing of such plays has been a large part of UMD’s success this season.

“[The defense] has been able to do that all year when the opportunities are there,” Sandelin said of his blue liners’ offensive play. “To beat good goaltenders, we did a good job with moving screens and guys around the net.

“We’re maybe not as active as some teams, but as long as they pick the right time and the right spots.”

The start was possibly the only negative for the Bulldogs as Minnesota controlled early play and had chance after chance to score. Kaskisuo (31 saves) stood his ground and his defense took care of rebounds, allowing Minnesota-Duluth to weather the storm.

The final eight minutes of the frame, however, was all Bulldogs and allowed them to completely take control.

At 12:49, UMD got on the board when Willie Raskob pinched from the right point, skated behind the net and fed Tony Cameranesi for a one-timer at the left post to give the Bulldogs a 1-0 edge.

Less than three minutes later, Justin Crandall redirected a Brenden Kotyk shot from the right point past Minnesota goaltender Adam Wilcox (29 saves) for a 2-0 lead.

And as the seconds in the frame were ticking away, a rebound of Raskob’s shot from the left wing circle hit Gophers defenseman Mike Reilly and bounced into the net, giving Minnesota-Duluth a 3-0 lead.

After an early 8-5 advantage in shots for Minnesota, UMD had eight of the final nine shots to take the commanding lead.

That momentum carried to the second period for the Bulldogs, who held a lopsided 14-3 edge in shots in the frame and scored the only marker. Carson Soucy’s shot pinballed off the Minnesota defense on the power play at 11:02.

Although Minnesota rebounded territorially in the third, outshooting Minnesota-Duluth 17-5, it was far too little, far too late.

That was the biggest disappointment for Gophers coach Don Lucia, who simply didn’t see the emotional response he hoped to from his club on Friday.

“We were a bit emotionally flat tonight at times,” said Lucia. “But we lost to a good team. You’re going to play good teams at this time of the season.

“But I’m proud of my guys for what they accomplished this year. There’s only one more thing they could have accomplished and that was to win the last game of the year.”