Despite Minnesota making things interesting in the third period, the #8 Huskies were top dogs Saturday night.
St. Cloud State (18-11-1, 15-6-1 WCHA) goaltender Ryan Faragher made 36 saves and four different Huskies scored to give the WCHA leaders a 4-3 win over the top-ranked Gophers. With the two teams splitting the weekend series, SCSU extends their lead in the conference to 3 points over North Dakota and 5 over both Minnesota (who have 2 games in hand) and Nebraska-Omaha.
Adam Wilcox (Tampa Bay Lightning) made 17 saves for Minnesota (19-5-4, 11-5-4 WCHA) in a losing effort.
Following a scoreless first period that saw back and forth play, sophomore forward Joey Holka got the Huskies on the board 2:39 into the second with a heads-up goal. Holka caught the puck out of the air, spun around and chipped it past Wilcox for his third goal of the season.
The Gophers responded by controlling play in the SCSU zone for the rest of the period, out-shooting them 15-8, but Faragher and the Huskies defense stood tall. That led to St. Cloud State taking advantage of another one of their few chances as Jimmy Murray set up Nic Dowd on a 2-on-1 to give them a 2-0 lead.
Nate Schmidt scored on a 5-on-3 - his fourth straight game with a goal - with 50.8 seconds remaining in the second period to finally get Minnesota on the board. However, the Huskies responded in the third period with freshman Johnny Brodzinski and senior Drew LeBlanc scoring less than 3 minutes apart. Brodzinski sniped a shot from the blue line that beat Wilcox (a rare soft goal for the freshman goaltender) for his team-leading 14th goal while LeBlanc caught them on a line change for his career-high 40th point this season.
Most of the time a 4-1 lead in the confines of the National Hockey Center would be sufficient enough for fans to start thinking about hitting the exits. It almost looked like everything was going St. Cloud State's way when both Travis Boyd (Washington Capitals) and Ben Marshall (Detroit Red Wings) hit the post on the same shift, but instead it was a precursor to a Gopher comeback that came up just short.
With Taylor Johnson in the penalty box for unsportsmanlike conduct, Nick Bjugstad (Florida Panthers) hit the third post of the period. This time, however, the puck went in for Bjugstad's 15th goal of the season with 9:07 remaining in regulation. Linemate Nate Condon (Colorado Avalanche) scored on a rebound less than four minutes later to cut the lead to 4-3.
Zach Budish (Nashville Predators) and Boyd had late chances, Faragher kept everything out of the net before a last-minute penalty killed any momentum the Gophers had.
While the St. Cloud State goalie was the player of the game, it wasn't just a one-man performance; 7 forwards had at least one point. The Huskies countered Minnesota's aggressive offense with several long breakout passes - something they weren't able to do Friday - and made their in-state rivals pay more often that not with their explosive offense. It's hard to win a game when you give up 4 goals, let alone trying to erase a 3 goal deficit in the final 10 minutes.
Minnesota next plays Wisconsin Friday in Madison and Sunday at Soldier Field in Chicago. St. Cloud State, meanwhile, is off next week before traveling to Colorado College.
Follow Nate on Twitter @gopherstate.