The Takeaway: Minnesota explodes for 4 in the third to defeat Denver 5-1

Posted by: Nate Wells

MINNEAPOLIS- It took Minnesota nearly 90 minutes to score a goal this weekend, but once the red light went on its work for the weekend was just beginning.

Redshirt junior Zach Budish scored twice while Erik Haula added 3 assists as the Gophers defeated Denver 5-1 behind a four goal third period. The win gave Minnesota a split in their final WCHA regular season home series before joining the Big Ten in 2013-2014.

The Pioneers took an early 1-0 lead on Scott Mayfield’s 3rd goal of the year and were poised for a second when Ty Loney tipped in a shot past Adam Wilcox 5 minutes into the second. Loney’s goal, however, was ruled to have been played with a high stick and overturned. That led to Budish tying the game at one 9:03 into the second before third period goals by Nick Bjugstad, Justin Holl, Sam Warning  and Budish (on an empty netter) sealed the game for Minnesota.

What I saw:

-Saturday’s first period was the opposite of Friday night. Both teams came out looking to make a statement and tested Wilcox and Sam Brittain, who made 38 saves following Juho Olkinuora’s 33 save shutout, more in the first 10 minutes than all of Friday. They both stood tall on multiple breakaways before the game opened up in the third period.

-Denver’s defense once again was unafraid to block shots. The Pioneers blocked 25 of Minnesota’s 84 attempts Saturday while Mayfield and Joey LaLeggia wisely picked and choose their spots to pinch in. That led to Mayfield’s goal where he split the Gopher defense on the end of a power play and beat Wilcox on his backhand; the only one of 32 shots the freshman goalie let by.

What I thought:

– Sam Warning’s goal in the third period exemplified the effort that was lacking from Minnesota on Friday. The sophomore forward created his own chance after poking the puck away from a Denver defenseman at the Pioneer blue line, skated around him and beat Brittain on a breakaway.

Minnesota at their best is a team that can score goals in bunches like tonight, scoring 3 in a 3:52 span, yet this weekend also showcased their worst. With the playoffs just around the corner, now is a good time to re-find that consistency.

-I thought Loney’s potential goal was tough to overturn. The sophomore was in the high slot where there wasn’t the best view, but this is why I’m not a referee.

-Denver’s penalty kill was exceptional all weekend. Still, taking so many penalties eventually did them in. After killing all 5 penalties Friday night, the Pioneers once again had more chances in Minnesota’s first three power plays (two of which were negated by Gopher penalties). It was the ninth and final power play of the weekend where a tired Pioneer penalty kill saw Bjugstad able to get set up for a one-timer and the go-ahead goal with 10:08 remaining.

What they said:

Nick Bjugstad on last night compared to tonight: “Every once in a while we need a reminder. We’re college kids so every once in a while we need a kick in the butt. I think that was good. It’s better than it happening in the playoffs this late in the season.”

Don Lucia on his lineup, which initially featured Bjugstad and Kyle Rau split up before moving Christian Isackson to their line and Budish with Erik Haula and Warning: “It was different twice. I had it set up then I was thinking about whether I wanted to go back to what we were earlier in the year. It gives us a  little more balance and I like it when we have a team that I feel comfortable playing 3 lines against anybody. ”

Erik Haula on having a couple chances before Budish finally scored: “I said to the guys, ‘I’m going to lose my mind if we wouldn’t have scored there.’ I had a semi-breakaway before that and kind of an open net that he saved but I’m happy. Zach had a couple goals today and Sam had one so I’m fine if we win.”

Other notes:

-Minnesota defenseman Seth Helgeson – the team’s lone senior – was honored before the game. In a fitting end to his final regular season home game, Helgeson picked up his first assist since November 24th on Budish’s empty net goal.

-Denver forward Chris Knowlton had to be helped off the ice early in the third period and did not return.

-The Gophers are 7-0-0 this season following a loss.

-Attendance was announced as 10,124.

-With Wisconsin’s 6-2 win over Nebraska-Omaha, Denver dropped to seventh in the WCHA.

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