Gophers cull split from Pioneers

Minnesota extended its winning streak to six games before losing 5-2 Saturday.

Ben Goessling

DENVER – One could make the case that Minnesota’s men’s hockey team received more than its fair share of breaks during a six-game winning streak that vaulted the Gophers to the top of the WCHA standings.

Take, for example, Kris Chucko’s game-winning overtime goal off his skate against Minnesota State-Mankato and Danny Irmen’s game-winning penalty shot off a tripping call versus Wisconsin.

There’s also the matter of Minnesota’s 5-4 win over Denver on Friday, during which Denver had a shot bounce in and out of Minnesota’s net and come up short, and tossed 34 shots at Gophers goaltender Kellen Briggs during the final two periods.

If Minnesota got lucky a few times during its run, Denver made sure the Gophers wouldn’t come within a chance hop of another sweep Saturday. The defending national champions dumped the Gophers 5-2 before a crowd of 6,027 at Magness Arena, peppering Briggs with 35 shots and collecting 11 in a three-goal third period that finally brought to fruition a weekend of near-misses.

Denver (6-5-0, 5-3-0 WCHA) scored twice in the first seven minutes of the period and added an empty-netter with 29 seconds left, turning away two Gophers (8-3-0, 6-2-0) power plays to hang on.

“In some ways, I thought we played better (Saturday) than we did (Friday),” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “We were tired. I don’t think there’s any question not playing last weekend had a little bit of an effect on fatigue.”

Minnesota took a 2-1 lead in the second period on a crisp

centering pass from Irmen to Ryan Potulny, but Denver tied the game 2:18 later when Jeff Drummond slid a pass around sprawling Gophers defenseman Chris Harrington. Denver’s Kevin Ulanski one-timed the puck home.

“All I was thinking (after Potulny’s goal) was, ‘Let’s get in the locker room with the lead going into the third period for a sweep,’ ” Harrington said. “You can’t expect much more than that.”

But after four goals in the third period Friday, Denver made its closing stretch count Saturday.

“We didn’t deserve to win (Friday’s) game,” Lucia said. “We should feel fortunate we came out with a split.”

The fact that Lucia used the word “fortunate” might not be a coincidence, because Friday night was another of the fortune-kissed evenings Minnesota has enjoyed all season.

Minnesota took a 3-0 lead through two periods Friday, spurred by three goals from its third and fourth lines and 19 saves from Briggs.

But in the third period, the Pioneers – who saw Briggs turn away several choice shots in the second frame – finally broke the wall and turned the game with two goals in less than a minute.

Denver scored on Paul Stastny’s one-timer with 3:36 gone in the period, and Adrian Veideman beat Briggs with a point-blank shot in the crease 36 seconds later. After dropping behind by two on a Potulny goal, the Pioneers squared the contest with two tallies in the final 10 minutes.

The tie didn’t last long, however.

Just 1:17 later, Potulny put away a rebound for his second goal of the game, sealing a contest the Gophers were only too happy to be done with.

“It was more relief than excitement,” Potulny said. “They came out hard in the third period, and we came out a little flat. We just had to dig down deep.”

On Saturday, however, the defending national champions, on the verge of being swept at home, dug a little deeper.

“We were just looking for that one break to pop it to 3-2, but it didn’t happen,” Harrington said. “Personally, I was foaming at the mouth (before the third period). I don’t care who you’re playing, if there’s a chance to sweep in someone else’s rink, you better do everything you can, whether you block a shot off your face or do something to make something happen. But by the same token, you have to be happy with two points on the road.”

Tallackson, Borgen out

The Gophers were without forwards Barry Tallackson and Brent Borgen over the weekend.

Tallackson twisted his ankle during Thursday’s skate. He watched Friday’s game from the press box and was questionable for Saturday but did not dress.

Lucia said Tallackson wants to get back in the lineup for this weekend’s College Hockey Showcase against Michigan and Michigan State but said he probably wouldn’t know until Wednesday or Thursday if Tallackson would play.

Borgen didn’t make the trip after violating a team rule, Lucia said.