Don't look now, but the Minnesota Golden Gophers are quietly putting together a playoff run.
The Gophers (11-12-2 WCHA, 16-15-2 overall) defeated a reeling UMD Bulldogs (14-10-1, 18-14-1) 3-2 on Friday night at the DECC in Duluth.
Plenty of fans of both teams were on hand to watch the Gophers pick up an emotional and hard-fought win on a gritty Jacob Cepis goal at 14:59 of the third period.
Nick Larson started the scoring out for the Gophers at 12:59 of the first period, taking a nifty pass from Jake Hansen on a 2-on-1 and depositing the puck past Bulldog goaltender Brady Hjelle above his left shoulder.
The Gophers controlled the play for much of the first and second periods, and were rewarded for their hard work with a five-minute power play on a boarding major. The Gophers, however, failed to score on the lengthy man-advantage, and the kill breathed new life into the Bulldogs team. After getting a power play late in the second period, forward David Grun put away a rebound that skittered across the crease with just four seconds left in the second period to knot the game at one goal a piece.
The third period was a emotional affair, with many skirmishes breaking out after the whistles had blown. The Gophers took advantage of a fortunate break at 9:13 of the period. Gopher defenseman Cade Fairchild had just come out of the penalty box and was on a partial breakaway after a nice pass from Jordan Schroeder. A Bulldog player was racing back to intercept Fairchild, but got tangled up with the referee, leaving the Gopher with a clear path to the net, which he buried five-hole.
The Bulldogs got a power play later in the period which they capitalized on quickly, getting a goal from Travis Oleksuk. However, after a broken play in front of Hjelle, Gopher forward Jacob Cepis whacked the puck into the net from the doorstep after several tries. The Gophers held off a hard-charging Bulldog squad in the last minutes of the game to secure the victory 3-2.
Three Gophers Stars of the Game
3. Alex Kangas
The Gopher goaltender stood tall in this game, stopping 32 of 34 Bulldog shots that came his way. The Bulldog student section, known as The Penalty Box, is known for getting on opposing goaltenders' nerves, but Kangas maintained his composure to lead the Gophers to victory.
2. Jacob Cepis
Cepis scored the game-winning goal on a gritty play, and gritty is the perfect word to describe the Junior forward's tenacity in this game and on the season as a whole. Cepis played with his typical blend of speed and annoying agitation to the opposing team, and he came up with the big play when the team needed it the most.
1. Nick Larson
Larson scored the first goal on a beautiful play, and was a solid contributor throughout, generating more scoring chances from the bottom two lines than we have seen yet this year. While I do not know if this game is of the breakout type for Larson, we have been seeing much more scoring from the checking lines during the Gophers current three-game winning streak. Larson will not likely be able to step up in every remaining game this year, but I no longer doubt that some other role player will. With scoring depth unlike anything followers of the Maroon and Gold have seen in several seasons, this team could compete in the rapidly-approaching postseason.
The Gophers have another huge game tonight. A win would put them officially back on the bubble for both the NCAA tournament and the race for home ice in the WCHA. Keep winning and the Gophers could see themselves in St. Paul for the Final Five and, perhaps, for the West Regional of the NCAA Tournament.
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