This 3-Goal Lead Never In Doubt
Minnesota Overcomes Final Five Demons to Advance to Frozen Four
by Dan Myers/CHN Staff
ST. PAUL, Minn. Perhaps it's ironic that the same three-goal lead that haunted Minnesota all week leading up to the West Regional ended up being the same margin that sent the Gophers to Tampa in two weeks for their first Frozen Four in seven years.
All week long, the Gophers heard about their inability to hold a 3-0 lead last Friday night, in the same arena, against the same team they defeated Sunday, North Dakota.
In the end, it was Minnesota who had the last laugh.
The Gophers never trailed Sunday in a 5-2 win over UND, allowing only 11 shots through two periods in a stifling defensive effort where Minnesota never took its foot off the gas pedal.
Example No. 1 came early in the second period. After a power-play goal by Erik Haula just 20 seconds in gave Minnesota a 2-0 lead, North Dakota came back just over a minute later to get back within one on a goal by Danny Kristo.
At that moment, the game hung in the balance. Everyone in the building could feel it.
But unlike last week, where the Fighting Sioux took all of the energy from their first goal, Minnesota grabbed every last ounce Sunday. UND wouldn't put up another shot on goal for 15 minutes and in that time, Minnesota got goals from Taylor Matson and Travis Boyd to push its lead to three.
"When we got up in the Final Five, we got complacent and were happy with where we were," Boyd said. "Today we took that experience and just made sure we weren't going to give up. We were going to stay on them hard."
With just 20 minutes left, the Gophers looked poised to close out North Dakota. Minnesota was outshooting the Sioux 20-11, leading 4-1 and had allowed only two shots in the entire second period. The only question was, would Minnesota be able to put last weekend's misery behind them.
Gophers coach Don Lucia said he never thought otherwise.
"I was actually pretty relaxed. I thought we had a very good second period and we've been so good in third periods all year long, it's why I kept trying to say it's not a trend," Lucia said. "Usually, when there is a trend to your team, you kind of are what you are. All season long, we've played great in third periods."
After 40 minutes, Minnesota had a chat in the locker room and also got a motivational pep-talk from strength coach Cal Dietz.
Whatever Dietz said, it worked.
And while the Gophers weren't dominant in the third period Sunday, they did what they had to. Nate Condon's goal with just over four minutes to play finally seemed to seal UND's fate, although a fluky goal by Mario Lamoureux 14 seconds later capped the 5-2 final.
Gophers captain Taylor Matson said Condon's goal is what finally allowed him and his teammates to breathe a sigh of relief. It was then, he said, his team was finally able to start thinking forward instead of back.
"We kind of wanted to get that last game out of our system against North Dakota," Matson said. "We had a pep talk with our team we went back to work this week in order to get ready for BU and then North Dakota. Words don’t describe playing against North Dakota, if you can’t get up for that game you can’t get up for anything. Our bench was great all night, we we’re motivating our guys on the bench and everyone was excited.”
Lucia said he also felt a difference on the bench in terms of his team's energy, and perhaps a feeling that Sunday was going to no Friday-night repeat.
"Usually, when it does, it's vocal," Lucia said. "They were talking today, that's for sure, doing the little things, blocked shots, chipping it out and getting it in. Last weekend, they didn't do that. They got quiet and all of the sudden you get on your heels. You're afraid to make a play.
"You gotta win. Nobody's going to give it to you. You gotta go play to win, and tonight they did."