Briggs proves superb as a subplot

Kellen Briggs will be integral in the Frozen Four, but he doesn’t need to be the star.

Aaron Blake

Maine and Cornell weren’t the only victims of heroic overtime goals by Minnesota’s men’s hockey team this weekend.

Gophers goaltender Kellen Briggs was robbed as well – of his propers.

Despite the grit-and-guts games and “SportsCenter” conclusions at Mariucci Arena, one of the main plotlines played out masterfully this weekend.

And then, it was masterfully forgotten.

Briggs returned to early-season form in his second and third games back from a broken left pinky finger, allowing a single goal in two games. Some criticized the insertion of Briggs over Justin Johnson, who had filled in admirably by winning six straight games heading into the WCHA Final Five.

But Briggs made coach Don Lucia look like a genius. Heading into the Frozen Four, the sophomore is again the key to a national title that he was three months ago.

But still, he got no love after his 25-save shutout of the Black Bears on Saturday. Instead, he waited more than five minutes for a question to be tossed his way, while the scribes asked game-winning freshman Evan Kaufmann to dissect the losing goalie, Maine’s Jimmy Howard.

But maybe it’s best that way.

Briggs wasn’t supposed to be a world-beating goalie this season. He was serviceable enough as a freshman last year, but few prognosticators put him on the level of Howard or Cornell’s David McKee.

Briggs thrived in that capacity. All he needed was to push his save percentage to .900, at which point he was 33-0-0 in his career until an overtime loss to Colorado College on Jan. 8.

But that loss to the Tigers also began the undoing of Briggs and the Gophers.

The goalie saw his goals-against average climb beyond 2.00 and his save percentage drop toward that magical .900 mark. Then, he saw Johnson chip away at his playing time. Then, he was a midweek scratch with an undisclosed injury that happened right around the time his potential replacement next year, the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Jeff Frazee, played his first game at Mariucci.

A little heat from both Johnson and Frazee could only have helped Briggs come up with the 125 minutes he cruised through Saturday and Sunday.

Yeah, Maine and Cornell aren’t exactly Colorado College and Denver. And Briggs didn’t face an overabundance (43) of shots.

But he saved every single shot he should have, and that’s really all Minnesota needs him to do. He doesn’t need to be the star goalie he was turning into midseason.

“I didn’t have to make a whole bunch of extraordinary saves,” Briggs said when finally tapped for his thoughts Saturday. “I just had to be solid.”

And two more games of “solid” would do the Gophers just fine in a week and a half.

He’s better off as the subplot.