The University of Minnesota Gophers have gone the entire season without being swept in a two-game series. That is until Saturday.
Nick Shore scored twice, once with 1:26 remaining in the third and then 17 seconds into overtime, to give Denver (17-9-4, 12-6-4 WCHA) a 4-3 win and a sweep over the Gophers. Erik Haula, Zach Budish and Nico Sacchetti scored for Minnesota (19-11-1, 15-7-0 WCHA), who were 10-0 on Saturday before tonight.
One of the problems the Gophers had in last night's loss to Denver was starting off slow.They rectified that tonight as it only took 38 seconds for Haula to steal the puck and shoot over Pioneer goalie Sam Brittain's right shoulder. It was the fastest goal for Minnesota this season and the third time they've scored in the game's first minute.
The remaining 19:22 did not see the puck finding the back of the net but the road team continued to be the aggressor, out-shooting Denver 12-7 and limiting their opportunities on net. Everything that went wrong in the first period for Minnesota on Friday was taken care of Saturday.
The Pioneers made adjustments in the second period to get their offense moving but it was Zach Budish who scored first to put the Gophers ahead 2-0 with 4:43 remaining. Despite being separated from normal linemates Kyle Rau (suspended) and Nick Bjugstad (on a different line), the redshirt sophomore scored his eighth goal of the season on the power play after officials may have missed an offsides call.
Chris Knowlton gave Denver life with 2:21 remaining in the second, capitalizing on a rare error by Minnesota defenseman Justin Holl. He was able to take advantage of the breakaway opportunity and the junior shot the puck past Gopher goaltender Kent Patterson for his tenth goal of the season. Minnesota ended the second period up 2-1 but not before Patterson, who made 37 saves Saturday, ended up being bombarded by scoring chances in the final two minutes.
Denver tied the game at 2 only 2:33 into the final period after both continuing their assault from the second and getting some timely undisciplined play from Minnesota. The Gophers turned a power play to a penalty kill in fifty-one seconds with both Jake Hansen and Budish taking bad penalties away from the puck. It was only a matter of time before someone made them pay and that someone was Pioneer forward Luke Salazar tipping in a Nick Shore shot.
Nico Sacchetti scored his second goal of the season midway through the third to give second-ranked Minnesota a 3-2 lead. However, instead of continuing to try to push the pace like in other games where the team held a one goal lead in the third the Gophers seemed to be content with the lead. They let Denver spend most of the final ten minutes in the Gopher zone and the team was content to dump the puck without trying to get any offense going.
With the chances the Pioneers got, it seemed to be a matter of when, not if, they would score and a late high-sticking penalty by Holl did not help things. Minnesota's penalty kill was able to withstand the first minute but Drew Shore found brother Nick all by himself with a cross-ice pass and the freshman brought the 6,079 fans at Magness Arena to life. The tying goal took the wind out of the Gophers' sails and a hard-working rebound goal by Shore off a face-off left Minnesota one point ahead of Minnesota Duluth and pointless on the weekend.
Like last night, Denver outplayed the Gophers at what they do best. Minnesota has been dominant on both Saturdays and the third period throughout the season and they were neither against the Pioneers. Whether or not it's just head coach George Gwozdecky having Don Lucia's number - he is now 13-2-1 in the last 16 games between the two teams - they deserve bit of credit. Denver is finally getting healthy for the first season and looks to be going in the right direction after struggling last weekend against Colorado College. That might be the silver lining for Minnesota because after getting swept this weekend, it is more than possible to come back from adversity and do something about being swept for the first time all season.
They just actually need to do something about it.
Minnesota plays Bemidji State next weekend at Mariucci Arena. Both Friday and Saturday's games start at 7 PM with Friday's game is on Fox Sports North Plus and Saturday seeing the Gophers return to the main FSN channel.
For more Gopher coverage, check out The Daily Gopher. For WCHA coverage, read Western College Hockey.