It's not surprising at all that the Gophers beat UMD 5-3 on Friday at Mariucci Arena.
They have won one game in all 13 WCHA series they have played so far this season. The tricky part has been winning two on the same weekend. The Gophers have only done that ONCE all season. They swept last-place Alaska Anchorage last month.
And the past two series, they won the first game at St. Cloud State and Wisconsin, then lost the second. Coach Don Lucia said that has disappointed him.
So will it happen again? Maybe. But if the Gophers do figure out a way to beat UMD again, they could be in first place by late Saturday night.
Right now, they are one point behind St. Cloud State, which lost 4-3 at Colorado College on Friday.
But Friday's 5-3 victory over UMD was not easy. For the second game in a row, freshman goalie Adam Wilcox gave up three goals in the second period. This time the period ended with the score tied 3-3 -- fortunately for the Gophers. UMD clanged three shots off pipes. So the Bulldogs could easily have been ahead 4-3, 5-3 or 6-3.
"The Gophers, for two periods, were not very sharp," said Bruce Ciskie, UMD's radio voice on a Twin Cities station on Saturday morning.
Since it was tied, that gave the Gophers a big edge, considering how poorly UMD has played in the third period during a winless streak that has now grown to eight games. The Bulldogs are 0-7-1 in the last eight games and in that stretch they have been outscored 15-1 in the final period. Ouch.
"Last night was a step in the right direction" for UMD, Ciskie said. He said the Bulldogs, at times, have shown they can beat the best teams in the league and they could be a tough out whoever they play on the road in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.
The top seven teams in the WCHA are only four points apart after Friday's three games. St. Cloud State leads with 31 points, the Gophers and Nebraska are one point back with 30. Minnesota State is fourth with 29, North Dakota fifth with 28 and Wisconsin and Denver are tied for sixth with 27.
One of those teams will not have home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs. And the Gophers are still in the precarious position that they could win the MacNaughton Cup if everything goes well, or they could be the team on the road if things fall apart for them.
Three of the contenders, all idle this weekend, have only four WCHA games left: Omaha, Minnesota State and Wisconsin. The others have five.
* UMD won the special teams battle on Friday, 2-1. The Bulldogs were 2-for-4 on the power play, the Gophers 0-for-5 but scored a shorthanded goal.
* The Gophers are second in the nation in third-period goals with 39. But then, they have been pretty consistent scoring every period. They also have 39 goals in the opening period, 37 in the second. Even their shots per period are about as close as possible: 341 in the first, 338 in the second, 351 in the third and 11 in overtime.
* Players on the Gophers' second line -- Sam Warning-Erik Haula-Nate Condon -- scored four of the Gophers' five goals.
* Zach Budish, Nick Bjugstad and Erik Haula all had five shots on goal on Friday to lead the Gophers. ... Haula and defenseman Mark Alt were both a plus-4.
* The 6-5 Bjugstad was a faceoff monster against the Bulldogs, winning 19 of 24 draws, or 79.1 percent. Rest of team won 25 of 46.