MINNEAPOLIS- It may be a cliche but few things are more valuable in the playoffs than defense and a hot goaltender.
Unfortunately for Bemidji State (6-22-8), those translated into a pair of heartbreaking losses to end the season.
A night after Kyle Rau scored his NCAA-leading 7th game winning goal in overtime, Ben Marshall became Minnesota’s newest hero Saturday when he put the Gophers ahead for the first time with 52.7 seconds left. Their resiliency overshadowed 37 saves from Beavers goaltender Andrew Walsh and goals by Jordan George, Cory Ward and Jeff Jubinville.
Despite Minnesota (26-7-5) out-shooting Bemidji State 12-8 in the first period, George scored the lone goal following a penalty to Nick Bjugstad. The Beavers made it 2-0 9:27 into the second period when Ward tipped in a shot by Sam Rendle. Bjugstad, meanwhile, made up for his earlier penalty, scoring 7 seconds into the Gophers’ first power play to cut the lead into one with 4:27 remaining but Jubinville scored 14 seconds later to make it 3-1 Bemidji State.
That was the Beavers’ high point, though. Nate Condon tipped in an Erik Haula shot with 1:06 remaining in the second to make it 3-2 following the second intermission. Minnesota came out strong, peppering Walsh with the first 8 shots of the 3rd, and eventually tied it 7:38 into the period when freshman A.J. Michaelson was left open on a line change. Overtime for the second straight night seemed inevitable before Marshall skated through the neutral zone, around a BSU defender and beat Walsh between the legs to send the Gophers to the Final Five on a 5 game winning streak (the last 4 against the Beavers).
Minnesota next plays Friday against an opponent to be determined.
What I saw:
-Despite the shot difference, it was not a fluke Bemidji State had both a 2-0 and 3-1 lead. They made the most of their opportunities and made Adam Wilcox work for his 19 saves. The Beavers were especially successful in countering Minnesota’s aggressive forwards to create odd-man rushes and following up. George, who was denied in 3 different breakaways over the last 3 games, finally broke through after a big rebound. The same held true for Jubinville as he followed up a partial breakaway to give BSU 3 goals on only 15 shots at that point.
-Nate Condon was finally rewarded when he scored. The second line of Condon, Erik Haula and Zach Budish were buzzing all weekend despite feeling off a step. The junior from Wassau, WI had 3 or 4 Grade A chances where passes were just missed or someone got a stick on it. That line getting on the scoresheet was a matter of when rather than if.
What I thought:
-Andrew Walsh has nothing to be ashamed about between Friday night’s 49 saves and tonight. While I wouldn’t be surprised if he saw Marshall’s shot in his dreams for the next 6 months and want it back,
-I’m not sure if Minnesota’s performance this weekend is good or bad. On one hand, they continued to show that the Gophers are not a team to be counted out with an overtime win and 2 goal comeback. On the other, they let a team who has won 1 of their last hang with them.
What I am sure about is Minnesota getting great production from their freshmen between Wilcox standing tall and A.J. Michaelson scoring arguably his biggest goal. That’s huge as they get deeper in the Final Five and NCAA Tournament.
What they said:
Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore: “I think we played our hearts out tonight. Obviously it’s a tough pill to swallow right now. We had a lead and I felt it on the bench – when it was 3-3 – I felt really good.”
Serratore on what the Beavers can take from Saturday’s game:
“It’s good for our young kids. It’s good for our older guys who are leaving. We just played well. It’s too bad there is no result to show for it because I thought we just played a very good hockey game.
“Last night we played well but again they probably dictated the game for 70 minutes. I thought there were stretches where we played extremely well and carried the play.”
Erik Haula on his line breaking through with a goal: “I think we had a lot of chances yesterday and we just couldn’t buy one. It’s good for our line’s confidence and it doesn’t really matter how it goes in – off the shinpads I don’t really care. I’m happy with it.”
Ben Marshall on his goal: “I picked the puck up in the neutral zone and got it along the right side wall. That’s usually where I go when I rush the puck up. To be honest, I just beat that first defenseman’s stick and put it on net – either front pad to get a rebound or a deflection and go in.”
-Minnesota forward Sam Warning missed both games against Bemidji State with an undisclosed injury suffered in practice this week. According to Lucia, Warning is currently “week to week.”
-With 3 assists Saturday, Haula matched his career high last year of 49 points. He’s one point away from joining Ryan Potulny, Phil Kessel, Thomas Vanek (twice) and Troy Riddle as the only Gophers who have scored 50 points in the last decade.
-Bemidji State had 7 seniors playing their final game Saturday.
-Attendance at Mariucci Arena was announced at 9,997 – 3 short of a sellout. It was also the last WCHA home game ever for the Gophers, who move to the Big Ten conference next year.