Sunday, March 14, 2010

Gophers Will Fight Another Day

The Gopher hockey team rebounded from one of its worst performances in recent memory with a great effort Saturday night and forced a decisive third game in the best-of-three WCHA first round playoffs, beating North Dakota 4-2 at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Seth Helgeson's first collegiate goal and point came just seconds after Jacob Cepis's game-tying power play tally in the third period to give the Gophers a lead they would not relinquish.

Alex Kangas made 41 saves in a victorious effort, one night after being pulled after allowing four goals in two periods.  

Minnesota's effort was exponentially better Saturday than the putrid performance Friday. Their good effort was rewarded midway through the first period when Mike Hoeffel scored on the power play to give Minny a lead. UND freshman Corban Knight scored off a faceoff in the second period to tie the score, and the game stayed that way until the third.

Matt Frattin scored midway through the frame to give UND a lead and wake up the Engelstad crowd who could sense a sweep. However, Ben Blood went to the box just 30 seconds after the Frattin goal on a tripping call, and Cepis tied the score. Less than a minute later, Helgeson tossed the puck toward the net, and goaltender Brad Eidsness misplayed it and it went behind him for the Gopher lead. Jordan Schroeder scored into an empty net to cap the scoring, and the Gophers live to fight another day.

Sunday night's game is for all the marbles for the Gophers. UND has the NCAA Tournament seemingly made win or lose Sunday night, but Minnesota needs to win and keep winning to keep its hopes alive. With efforts like Saturday night, they should have a chance Sunday night. However, UND has been in this situation before, being forced to go a full three games in the first round six times since 1999 and won the series each time (HT to Jeff Atkins for his tremendous research). The Ralph crowd will be hostile, but the Gophers were able to neutralize it most of the night on Saturday. Plus, the Gophers proved they could get to Eidsness. After the Cepis goal, Minnesota put on relentless pressure the balance of the game, out-skating the Sioux and winning the puck battles. They need to channel that intensity all night Sunday. Finally, the Gophers need to take care of the defensive zone. Although they still allowed too many shots Saturday night, the Gophers played much better in the defensive end and escaped with a win.

It should be fun as Gopher fans have one more chance to have a reason to cheer at the Final Five next weekend in St. Paul.

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