Mike Reilly knows the math. For the Gophers to have a chance at winning the WCHA's regular-season championship, they must find a way to earn four points in a weekend series -- and Saturday, they fell short again with a 2-2 tie against Minnesota Duluth at Mariucci Arena.
The No. 2 Gophers (21-6-5, 13-6-5 WCHA) have earned only one league sweep all season, against last-place Alaska Anchorage in January. Saturday, they twice lost one-goal leads and had to settle for a single point against a team that is 0-7-2 in its past nine games. After Tom Serratore gave the Gophers a 2-1 lead at 6 minutes, 25 seconds of the third period, Jake Hendrickson scored with 7:06 left to salvage a tie for the Bulldogs (10-17-5, 8-13-5).
Gophers coach Don Lucia was happy with his team's improvement from a spotty performance in Friday's 5-3 victory. It outshot the Bulldogs 40-37 and got a career-high 35 saves from goalie Adam Wilcox, but a stout UMD defense kept the Gophers in check. Goaltender Matt McNeely made 38 saves -- including one stop on a blazing shot by Nick Bjugstad that bent his face mask -- and his teammates blocked 23 shots.
The Gophers entered the weekend in fourth place in the WCHA, three points behind leader St. Cloud State. The victory and tie boosted them to second and pulled them one point closer to the Huskies. But Reilly said that's not enough for a team that still has aspirations of winning the title.
"We haven't gotten those four-point weekends, and that's really hurt us in the standings," said Reilly, a freshman defenseman who scored the Gophers' first goal Saturday. "We're not satisfied with three of four points. We've got to close it out on Saturdays. We're going to have to get a four-point weekend if we want to win it all.''
Though the Gophers came out with good energy Saturday, they made too many mistakes to win against the gritty Bulldogs. Reilly scored on their first power play, cruising through the right circle and snapping a shot over McNeely.
In the second period, the Gophers created problems for themselves with three penalties. After a slashing call on Kyle Rau, Austin Farley scored his third goal of the series at 12:13 on the power play to pull the Bulldogs even. UMD scored three power-play goals in the series against a Gophers team that had allowed only 10 power-play goals all season.
As the pace quickened in the third, Serratore teamed with Travis Boyd to put the Gophers back into the lead. Boyd picked up the puck in the right corner of the UMD zone and sent it behind the net to Serratore, who pivoted, wrapped around the right goal post and sneaked it past McNeely. But Hendrickson tied it again, getting open in front of the Gophers' net.
In overtime, the Gophers pressured McNeely early but made an error on a line change and were penalized for too many men on the ice. The Bulldogs' Justin Crandall had an opportunity to score the winner when he had an open net but could not handle a pass.
Said Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin: "I thought we had a good weekend. I liked how our team played."
Lucia said much the same: "It was a hard-fought WCHA game. I thought we played well.
"We played better than [Friday]. Our game was faster and more crisp.''