DENVER — In a back-and-forth game, the No. 4 Denver Pioneers twice rallied from a goal down to defeat No. 9 Minnesota Duluth, 4-3, and sweep both the weekend and season series between the two. The Pioneers have now won five straight against the Bulldogs.
“We knew before the game they were going to come hard; they’re a great team,” said Denver forward Dylan Gambrell, who scored the game-winning goal. “They have a great coaching staff, and we knew they were going to bounce back and bring their best. They definitely brought it in the first. I think we came together in the locker room, brought together some energy and started taking it to them in the second and third.”
Denver got the game’s first power play just after the game started, but was unable to convert. Instead, the Pioneers took the lead with a short-handed goal when Logan O’Connor stripped the puck from a Duluth defenseman at the Denver blue line and raced up the left-side boards, wristing a shot top corner glove side past Hunter Shepard at 4:22.
However, Duluth seemed to be determined to get traffic in front of Tanner Jaillet, and it paid off at 10:26 when Scott Perunovich got the puck near the top of the right faceoff circle and cut toward the middle of the slot, wristing a perfect shot top corner stick side at 10:26.
Getting traffic to the front gave Duluth its first lead over Denver since Dec. 10, 2016, the last time Duluth beat Denver. This time, Kobe Roth got right in front of the crease and deflected Mikey Anderson’s shot five-hole past Jaillet at 18:04.
“You have to; he’s a good goalie,” said Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin of getting traffic in front of Jaillet. “He’s going to stop 99 of 100 shots he sees, right? I kind of think he might let one in. You have to. We talked about it. I thought our D did a better job of getting pucks through. That’s how you have to beat him.”
Denver tied it early in the second off a relentless forecheck, as Ryan Barrow got the puck after Jake Durflinger forced a turnover at the blue line. Barrow drove with the puck to the left faceoff circle and ripped a snap shot past Shepard at 4:53.
“I just thought that they changed the momentum of the game,” said Denver coach Jim Montgomery. “Jaako Heikkinen had the hit, Durflinger picks up the rebound and gives it to Barrow, and what a great release. Something we’ve been working with him on, and he’s been getting better and better and scoring a lot more goals in practice, and now you can see the confidence.”
However, Duluth rallied to take the lead again at 9:10 when Riley Tufte beat Jaillet short side from the left faceoff circle with a quick snap shot that seemed to handcuff the Denver goalie.
Denver then tied it late when Jarid Lukosevicius got a pass from Gambrell just outside the goal line and cut toward the crease, beating Shepard with a backhand low stick side at 18:40. That late goal seemed to give Denver momentum for the third
“They’re good; their big players decided to step up and play, and that’s what won them the game,” said Sandelin. “To me, it was a good hockey game, back and forth.”
Denver poured on the pressure in the third period, dominating time of possession, and it paid off at 9:09 when Gambrell scored. The play started when Gambrell forechecked in the right corner and got the puck up to the point, where Adam Plant got it and sent a shot on net. Troy Terry picked up the rebound at the goal line and sent a shot toward the crease that deflected off Duluth defenseman Nick Wolff and rolled along the goal line. Gambrell spied it and raced in and knocked it in.
“Against a team like that that works so hard, we play a similar game, so they’re not going to be the prettiest goals, so we have to find a way to put the puck in the net and get to their crease,” said Gambrell.
“It seems like this weekend, any time I put them together, it was like the crowd thought something good was going to happen, and they didn’t disappoint,” said Montgomery of playing Gambrell with Terry and Henrik Borgrström.
Late in the game, with Denver on a power play, Duluth was able to pull Shepard. Jaillet made a huge save with 46 seconds left on a point-blank chance at the left post by Tufte, who got the puck and made a quick snap shot, and Denver held on.
“His confidence is at such a high level right now,” said Montgomery of Jaillet. “I haven’t watched the goals, so you guys have a better view, because I’m on the other side of the ice, but that being said, if he’s going to let up one goal that’s average, we’re going to live with it because it’s the only one he’s letting in for a month and a half.”