Throughout the season, the Minnesota coaches have stressed winning the first ten minutes of every game. The Gophers did just that as Nate Condon netted his 11th goal of the year on a nifty shot that barely trickled past goaltender Matt McNeely over the goal-line. The play was reviewed but the call stood, giving Minnesota an early 1-0 advantage.
“No, not from what I saw,” said Bulldog coach Scott Sandelin when asked if he thought the goal should have counted.
Although the Gophers benefited from a controversial review, they also had a Travis Boyd goal waved off thanks to a goalie interference call in the first period.
Despite heading into the first intermission up 1-0, Minnesota trailed 7-11 in shots on net as the Bulldogs were kept off the board thanks to some solid play by netminder Adam Wilcox.
In the second, the Gophers again got off to another quick start. After Justin Holl was whistled for goaltender interference, the Gophers found themselves trying to hold onto their lead. Minnesota did more than that as Erik Haula was able to net a short-handed goal on a great pass from Zach Budish to make the score 2-0 in favor of the home team.
“Sometimes you get a 2-0 lead and you almost feel like it’s game over,” said Don Lucia. “It never felt that way tonight. They were doing plenty to be in the game or even ahead at that point in time.”
It didn’t take the Bulldogs long to respond as Justin Crandall scored on the powerplay just :37 seconds after Haula’s tally to make the score 2-1. Less than five minutes later, UMD forced a turnover in the Minnesota zone, leading to an open chance for Austin Farley who had no trouble putting the puck in the net, tying the game at 2-2 with 6:50 left in the second.
Although the Bulldogs were able to tie it up, less than two minutes later, Sam Warning gave Minnesota a 3-2 lead on a beautiful deke through the UMD defense and past McNeely.
“What can you say, I just gave him a high five,” said Erik Haula of the goal. “I didn’t really know what to say. It was a highlight-reel goal.”
The move past the defender is something that Warning has been working on in practice.
“I have to give some credit to Christian Isackson; in practice we just work on some moves that you’d see [Pavel] Datsyuk do,” said Warning.
After the Gophers regained the lead, it looked like they were going to run away with the game but the Bulldogs had other plans. After a Ben Marshall hooking penalty, Farley netted his second goal of the game, this time on the powerplay.
“[The Bulldogs] did a great job on their powerplay and we got caught out there in the second period, especially that last one, we were a little tired,” said Lucia of the goal.
Even after UMD rallied two times in the second to tie the game, the Gophers were confident in their ability to win the third period.
“We weren’t happy; we weren’t playing that well,” said Haula about the second period. “We had to come out hard in the third so we could get the two points.”
Minnesota again came out of intermission with a spark, shelling the Bulldogs. Minnesota tallied 16 shots on net in the final frame, compared to just four by Minnesota Duluth.
The strong play paid off with just over six minutes remaining as Kyle Rau pulled in a rebound and went right around McNeely for an easy goal, Rau’s 14th of the season and first in eight games.
“It was nice getting [a goal] tonight especially in a win to start the weekend right,” said Rau. “It was a nice setup, and the puck just kind of found my stick. You couldn't get a better chance than that."
With a 4-3 lead, Haula was able to seal the game with an empty-net goal, giving the Gophers a 5-3 victory. The second line of Warning, Haula, and Condon, accounted for four of Minnesota’s five goals and tallied six points on the evening.
“We just tried to move our feet and over the week we’ve had some pretty good chemistry in practice and I think that just carried over to the game tonight,” said Warning.
Lucia noted the second line was important for Minnesota’s success.
“Haula’s line was obviously the key tonight,” said Lucia. “I thought our top-end guys made plays when they had the opportunity to makes the plays and they finished and that was the difference.”
With a big win on Friday night, the Gophers will now focus their attention on sweeping the Bulldogs during Saturday’s tilt.
“We know we have to come out tomorrow and play in all three zones and limit our turnovers and we need to bury our chances,” said Warning.
The Gophers and Bulldogs will faceoff tomorrow at 7:00 p.m. from Mariucci Arena.