Three points doesn’t satisfy Gophers

Minnesota hasn’t swept an opponent in more than a month.

Minnesota forward Kyle Rau chases the puck against Minnesota-Duluth on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, at Mariucci Arena.

Amanda Snyder

Minnesota forward Kyle Rau chases the puck against Minnesota-Duluth on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, at Mariucci Arena.

by Drew Claussen

Three points are nowhere near as good as four for the Gophers hockey team.

As a tight race for the Western Collegiate Hockey Association crown winds down, the No. 2 Gophers picked up three out of four points against Minnesota-Duluth at Mariucci Arena this weekend. The teams tied 2-2 on Saturday night after the Gophers won 5-3 on Friday.

After splitting their previous three series, the Gophers (21-6-5, 13-6-5 WCHA) talked openly about the importance of playing a complete weekend with UMD and getting a sweep.

“I don’t think we’re satisfied with three of four points,” freshman defenseman Mike Reilly said.

Minnesota surrendered two one-goal leads Saturday en route to the tie.

Reilly scored a power-play goal in the first period, but the Bulldogs answered in the second with a power-play goal of their own.

Both teams traded goals in the third period but couldn’t score in the final seven minutes of the period or in the five-minute overtime.

The Gophers improved their defensive and goaltending efforts Saturday.

“We definitely tightened it up [defensively],” sophomore forward Travis Boyd said Saturday. “We went over video this morning and definitely made some adjustments.”

But it didn’t translate to a win. UMD also played well defensively Saturday, blocking 23 shots.

“That’s a team competing,” head coach Don Lucia said. “You could tell that they were dialed in.”

Both Adam Wilcox and UMD goalie Matt McNeely had at least 35 saves Saturday. Wilcox gave up three goals on 29 shots Friday, and McNeely gave up four  on 33. 

“I told [McNeely] today, ‘You’re going to be tested,’” UMD coach Scott Sandelin said Saturday. “I knew [the Gophers] were going to come with more of an offensive push, and they did.”

The Gophers’ defensive unit played one of its worst games Friday but was aided by UMD’s inability to capitalize on opportunities.

The Bulldogs’ poor finishing kept it from pulling away from Minnesota all weekend. UMD didn’t lead in either game.

UMD hit three posts Friday and fanned on many solid opportunities throughout the game.

The Gophers’ Kyle Rau scored the game-winner in the third period Friday when a deflected puck found his stick in the high slot. That goal spiced up an otherwise uneventful third period.

UMD scored three second-period goals — two on the power play — to make it close before the Gophers pulled away in the third.

Minnesota went 0-for-5 with the extra man Friday.

“Early on it just kind of summed up our game,” Lucia said of Minnesota’s power-play struggles. “I thought we moved it better later in the game.”

In a game in which they could have trailed, the Gophers stayed in it with big plays Friday.

“I thought our top-end guys made the plays when they had the opportunities to make the plays,” Lucia said. “And they finished. That was the difference tonight.”

In the second period, junior forward Zach Budish dropped a pass to Erik Haula on a penalty kill for a short-handed goal. Later, Sam Warning went coast-to-coast and notched a highlight-reel goal.

Haula’s goal gave the Gophers a short-lived, two-goal lead.

“Sometimes you get a 2-0 lead and you feel like it’s almost over,” Lucia said Friday. “I never felt that way tonight.”

The Gophers still have a shot at the WCHA title, as they sit two points behind conference leader St. Cloud State with two series left.