With the expectations and high level of excitement that accompanied Friday night's series opener between Minnesota and North Dakota (13-7-3, 8-4-3 WCHA), it's safe to say no one expected to see a combined two shots in the first 10 minutes.
Fortunately, the final 50 minutes more than made up for it..
Ben Marshall's goal with 5.8 seconds remaining in the second period turned the tide for Minnesota (17-3-3, 9-3-3 WCHA) as the team extended their unbeaten streak to nine games with a 5-1 win over UND. Five different Gophers scored Friday night, led by center Nate Condon's (Colorado Avalanche) three assists.
Before the action began, however, Minnesota and North Dakota came out of the gate cautious. The opening fifteen minutes felt like the first round of a title fight with the two teams feeling each other out. The end result was the Gophers holding an 8-5 shot advantage in only their second scoreless first period this season.
"I thought that when the game started it was kind of tentative on both sides. It was cautious," Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said. "Nobody wanted to make a mistake."
It was the Gophers who made that first mistake, though. With Jake Parenteau in the penalty box for a unnecessary holding penalty, North Dakota took advantage and got on the board first. Sophomore forward Michael Parks (Philadelphia Flyers) found a way to tip the puck over Minnesota goalie Adam Wilcox (Tampa Bay Lightning) for his third goal of the season.
Their lead, however, lasted a total of 2:32 as Minnesota forward Zach Budish (Nashville Predators) found himself the benefactor of a Sam Warning pass and sniped it past UND goalie Clarke Saunders.
"Obviously, getting that first goal for us to tie it 1-1 was critical," said Lucia.
While North Dakota had chances throughout the second, the turning point in the game was the team-formerly-known-as-the-Fighting-Sioux failing to convert on a power play late in the period. Minnesota controlled play for most of the two-minute minor to Seth Helgeson (New Jersey Devils) and Condon had a couple shorthanded scoring chances. The play led to junior Erik Haula, who returned after missing 3 games, having a partial breakaway on a UND line change and forced defenseman Andrew MacWilliam to take a slashing penalty with 1:04 left in the second.
On the ensuing power play, Marshall (Detroit Red Wings) pinched in on the power play to slam home a puck lying in traffic with 5.8 seconds left. It was the sophomore defenseman's second last-minute goal in as many Fridays and gave the Gophers a 2-1 lead into the locker room.
"It was a real close hockey game through 39 minutes," University of North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol said. "They capitalized. It was a tough goal for us to give up with a few seconds left."
If Marshall's goal wasn't a back-breaker for North Dakota, the first 6:03 of the third period was. Minnesota came out of the intermission with an extra step and ended up having a disallowed goal by Haula and Mike Reilly (Columbus Blue Jackets) hitting the post before Nate Schmidt scored his fourth goal of the season. The junior leads all college hockey defensemen with 23 points this season.
Then it was Condon scoring his first shorthanded goal of the season. The speedy junior took advantage of UND defenseman Joe Gleason breaking his stick on a shot and beat him and Saunders to give the Gophesr a 4-1 lead.
"There was no doubt that I was going to the net. There was no way I was pulling up at that point," Condon said about his goal. "I was surpised (Joe Gleason) didn't get more of a body on me. I just slipped by him a little bit.
Adam Wilcox, who made 24 saves, continued, to play above his age by stopping multiple odd-man chances by North Dakota. In a series which has in the past has eaten freshmen goalies alive, the goalie was poised and let talented forwards like Corban Knight (Florida Panthers) and Rocco Grimaldi (Panthers) come to him.
"He's a good goalie," MacWilliam said about the Gopher freshman. "(Wilcox) made the saves when he needed to and he kept them out late in the game."
Hakstol decided to gamble with 4 minutes remaining down 3 goals and pulled Saunders in an attempt to spark North Dakota. However, it didn't work as Haula added an empty-netter goal to give Minnesota a 5-1 lead with 3:05 remaining in the game.
Minnesota and North Dakota play again tomorrow at 5 p.m. CT as part of Hockey Day Minnesota. The game will be broadcast on Fox Sports North.
Follow Nate on Twitter @gopherstate.