It has been just over a year since the Gophers were last swept in a two-game series. With their recent results, it now feels like they have gone just as long without sweeping.
Minnesota-Duluth forward Jake Hendrickson scored his fifth goal of the season to tie the game 2-2 with 7:06 remaining in regulation and that ended up being the final result Saturday. Minnesota (21-6-5, 13-6-5) takes 3 of 4 points this weekend at Mariucci Arena after splitting their last three series.
"It was a hard fought WCHA game tonight," said Gophers head coach Don Lucia.
Minnesota got on the board first for the second straight night . Following a bench minor to Minnesota-Duluth (10-17-5, 8-13-5 WCHA) late in the first period, Mike Reilly (Columbus Blue Jackets) switched spots with Ben Marshall and beat UMD goalie Matt McNeely for his third goal of the season.
"No one came at me so I went to the middle," Reilly said about his goal. "I kind of threw a fake shot at the goalie - I don't know if he saw me - I just kind of went to the left and threw it in the back of the net."
The Bulldogs, however, matched their in-state rival's power play goal with one of their own 12:13 into the second. Austin Farley, who scored twice Friday night, found himself uncovered and shot a Caleb Herbert rebound past Adam Wilcox (Tampa Bay Lightning) for his 13th goal of the season.
It was the third power play goal the Gophers had given up in two games after only allowing 9 all season.
"I thought our penalty kill struggled a little bit this weekend," Lucia said. "That's an area (we need to improve) because Denver has a good power play and we'll have to be better in net."
Although they are currently 9th in the WCHA, Minnesota-Duluth was more than capable of weathering a couple storms. McNeely made a career-high 38 saves against the other maroon and gold team. Meanwhile, his defense blocked 23 shots. The Bulldogs were able to get bodies in front of the net and stack the slot to take away opportunities by a physical Minnesota team. Other than a waved-off goal by Kyle Rau (Florida Panthers) in the second, the Gophers only achieved three Grade A chances in the second.
"Every team needs good goaltending. So hopefully that's a good sign for us, that we got some confidence from that," Minnesota-Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin said about his freshman goaltender. "(McNeely's) had some good games.
"I told him today 'you're going be tested.' I knew they were going to come with more of an offensive push and they did, certainly early in the game, and he had to make some big saves."
The Gophers did, however, beat McNeely 6:25 into the third to take a 2-1 lead. Travis Boyd (Washington Capitals) beat a UMD defenseman to the puck and fed Tom Serratore behind the net. Serratore did the rest as he scored his 7th goal of the season on a wraparound.
Given the fact that the 2003 national championship team was honored in front of 10,241 at Mariucci, it was fitting that the Gophers scored a goal that looked like one Thomas Vanek would have done a decade earlier.
It wasn't enough because six minutes later Hendrickson brought Minnesota-Duluth back for the second time. The senior tapped home the puck through the legs of Wilcox, who made 35 saves (also a career high), following a sequence where the puck went off the boards and net straight to Hendrickson. The end result was a tie in what was a chippy game at times for the final regular season conference meeting between the two teams.
With the tie the Gophers stay place in the WCHA, two points behind St. Cloud State.
Minnesota played better at times Saturday - especially on the blue line - yet they still had moments of frustrating play. There was none greater than when they dominated the first 1:47 of overtime in the UMD zone before taking a too many men minor that wiped their momentum. It's the little things like that which turn a sweep - something they have done once in WCHA play this season - into 3 points agassnt the Bulldogs.
At the end of the season the Gophers will have a growing list of games to look back at lost points if they do not win their second straight MacNaughton Cup. More importantly is something Boyd touches on in terms of consistency.
"We have to get better consistency. We got to be able to win 2 games on a weekend," he said. "We can't be able to come out on a Friday and win and come out on a Saturday and tie or lose.
"Once you get into the playoffs you got to win two games in a weekend. If you don't do that you aren't going to keep moving on."