For two periods, Saturday's game had all the makings of another Minnesota comeback. The Gophers trailed 2-0 and 3-2 before tying the game and looked to have control before an ugly truth set in.
It's hard to keep coming back time after time because eventually one of those times you will get burned.
Minnesota State freshman forward Dylan Margonari put the Mavericks ahead for good with 3:41 left in the game and JP Lafontaine added an empty netter to beat the second ranked Gophers 5-3 in Mankato. Phil Cook made 25 saves for Minnesota State (3-3-0, 1-3-0 WCHA), who earned a split in their home and home series with Minnesota (5-2-0, 2-2-0 WCHA).
Erik Haula (Minnesota Wild), Nick Bjugstad (Florida Panthers) and Nate Condon (Colorado Avalanche) scored for the Gophers while Adam Wilcox (Tampa Bay Lightning) made 30 saves in his first collegiate defeat.
The Mavericks got out to a fast start for the second straight night as Minnesota had trouble getting the puck out of their own zone. Several passes were off target or given away to Minnesota State, who out-shot the Gophers 17-6 in the first period, and they were able to get out to a quick 2-0 lead. Josh Nelson started the scoring off of a face-off 6:20 into the game and after Nate Schmidt was called for a penalty, junior forward Zach Lehrke took advantage on the power play.
Lehrke's goal finally woke Minnesota up and they began to scrap their way back. Haula cut the lead in half on a diving goal-of-the-year contender and Bjugstad evened the game up 56 seconds into the second period. Bjugstad's goal, his fourth of the year, came on the power play when he was able to get open for a cross-ice pass. Minnesota State's Johnny McInnis gave the Mavericks a 3-2 lead 12:14 into the second when he scored off a rebound. However, Nate Condon scored 26 seconds later to deadlock the game once again.
That was as close as the Gophers got. Although the team tested Cook, they were unable to take the lead Saturday and unlike Friday, Minnesota State didn't fold in the third period. That became apparent just 12 seconds into the period when the Mavericks were able to successfully kill an Eriah Hayes tripping penalty. There was something different in their demeanor; the Mavericks had better shorthanded chances than Minnesota did on their own power play. It continued throughout the third period with the end result being Margonari's late goal following another Gopher power play.
After going 3 for 6 last night with the man advantage, Minnesota was 1 for 5 Saturday. It was also only the second time Haula, who had three points on the night, scored a goal and the Gophers lost since the beginning of the 2011-2012 season. Minnesota had been 15-1-1 since then.
Overall, a lot of credit has to go to the Mavericks. They didn't fade away when they have in the past and never let Minnesota take the lead. The fact was while the Gophers made defensive adjustments, Minnesota State took it to them and earned head coach Mike Hastings his first WCHA victory.
Minnesota next plays on the road against Alaska-Anchorage Friday and Saturday. Both games start at 10:00 p.m. CT and won't be broadcast on television.
You can follow Nate on Twitter @gopherstate