First period scoring burst enough to help Gophers fend off Mavericks
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MINNEAPOLIS -- A three-goal first period buoyed the Gophers on their way to emerging with a hard-nosed 3-2 defeat of Minnesota State on Saturday, and their fifth weekend sweep of the season.
No third-period rally was needed for the Gophers -- a change from their sloppy, inconsistent performance in the series opener Friday. Instead, they had to stomp out a furious surge by the Mavericks brought on by penalty trouble.
Minnesota State netted goals on two of its nine power plays to come within one of erasing the deficit. But the Gophers' defense didn't waver in the final 16 minutes, salvaging their 13th win.
"We couldn't build on that lead," coach Don Lucia said. "They kind of climbed themselves back into the game, but the bottom line is we got two more wins at home."
There was no mistaking the lift in intensity the Gophers had undergone over night and it translated to the scoreboard. Captain Taylor Matson and freshman Kyle Rau each netted their second goals of the weekend. "U" goalie Kent Patterson turned away 26 shots, including several crucial saves in the third period.
"We had a lot more jump in our step tonight," Matson said. "A lot of guys were playing with more chemistry with their linemates. It's just a result of wanting it more tonight."
As was the case the night before, the Gophers bounded out to a quick lead.
Seconds remained on Minnesota State's first penalty kill, but a final surge by the Gophers came at the right time. Freshman winger Seth Amborz planted himself directly in front of Mavericks' goaltender Austin Lee, making it a prime position to knock in Zach Budish's pass less than three minutes in.
"I like those little greasy goals," Ambroz said. "You've got to get to the net and bang in those rebounds. Being in front of the net is somewhere you need to pay the price to get gritty goals."
Emotions were high as both squads went after each other early on, leaving the refs to break up numerous skirmishes. The added zip paid off in the Gophers' favor. Throwing heavy pressure towards the Minnesota State goal, the "U" opened up continual scoring chances and eventually the results became tangible.
The clock hadn't reached the midway point in first period when Matson reeled in a kick-around pass from Nate Condon and delivered it into the opening behind Lee.
Nursing a 2-0 lead, the Gophers began to favor their defense and dropped back to fend off a several Mavericks attacks. The gap in shots on a goal the "U" had created slowly withered to 15-14 by the close of the period. However, Minnesota State wasn't able to escape into intermission without further damage being inflicted.
With the clock approaching the one-minute mark, Mark Alt found Rau at the left hash mark, where the freshman star stuck his stick out to tip in the Gophers' third goal.
Though momentum appeared soundly on the "U's" side entering the second period, Minnesota State's scrappy play kept the lead in-check. That's when the Gophers' glut of penalties caught up with them.
A cross-checking call found defenseman Justin Holl in the penalty box, leaving the Mavericks to push forward on the power play. Minnesota State's Zach Lehrke managed to get a piece of a loose puck that came off a skate in a scrum in front of the net, and Patterson was unable to react fast enough to stop the score.
"We had to kill a lot of penalties tonight," Lucia said. "We have to be smarter than that. It was a little bit of a lesson in some of those areas."
It was the same story a period later. The Gophers remained in front 3-1, but in a 30 second stretch early in the third they abruptly ended up down two men on consecutive penalties by Rau and Jake Hansen. Minnesota State took advantage without much hesitation, with Lehrke banking in another goal to draw within one.
Opportunities to tie were there for the Mavericks. However, Patterson and his defense didn't relinquish again.
When Lehrke's second goal went in, Minnesota State was on the brink of completing an unlikely comeback.
The Gophers struck a balance though between their attack and dropping down low to prevent the Mavericks from making another run at the tying goal.
22: Combined penalty minutes logged by the two squads in the first period, matching their total from the rest of the game.
4: Number of points Matson tallied this weekend (two goals, two assists).
40: Shots on goal by the Gophers -- 18 more than the Mavericks (22).
4: Years since the Gophers last swept the Mavericks (Nov. 9 and 10, 2007).
"It felt like a monkey off my back there. Hopefully I can keep them coming."
-- Amborz on his goal in the opening period -- his first in 17 games.
"I was happy for Seth. He scored the type of goal he needs to score -- right in front of the net. We haven't had enough of those lately."
-- Lucia, when asked about Ambroz breaking his scoreless streak.
• Gophers -- Seth Ambroz (3) on the power play, assisted by Zach Budish (13) and Taylor Matson (7), 2:37.Gophers 1, Minnesota State 0
• Gophers -- Matson (5), assisted by Nate Condon (8) and Seth Ambroz (2), 8:24. Gophers 2, Minnesota State 0
• Gophers -- Kyle Rau (11), assisted by Mark Alt (6) and Budish (13), 18:41. Gophers 3, Minnesota State 0
• Mavericks -- Zach Lehrke (4), assisted by J.P. Lafontaine (5) and Eli Zuck (4), 2:32. Gophers 3, Mavericks 1
• Mavericks -- Lehrke (5), assisted by Lafontaine (4) and Matt Leitner (5), 4:00. Gophers 3, Mavericks 2
1. Taylor Matson
2. Zach Lehrke
3. Seth Ambroz
The Gophers' month-long stay at home enters its second week on Friday, when Michigan Tech travels to the Twins Cities for a two-game set (7 p.m. Friday, 8 p.m. Saturday; 1500 ESPN).