Finn power. That’s all it took for the Gophers to get to St. Paul.
Erik Haula scored two goals early in the third period, 18 seconds apart, to ignite the Gophers to a 7-3 comeback victory over Alaska Anchorage on Saturday at Mariucci Arena.
The Gophers won the best-of-three, first-round WCHA series with the Seawolves 2-0. Friday’s score was 2-1 and Haula had two goals in that game, too.
The sweep of UAA puts the Gophers (26-12-1) into the semifinals of the Final Five next Friday at the Xcel Energy Center. As the top seed there, the MacNaughton Cup winners get a bye in the quarterfinals. They did not advance to the Final Five the past two years.
And Saturday, it looked as if the Seawolves, playing before a hostile crowd announced as 9,018, would force a third game Sunday in this series when they took a 3-1 lead in the second period.
Goals by Zach Budish and Nick Bjugstad tied the score at 3-3 before the middle period ended.
Haula, a sophomore center from Pori, Finland, took over the game early in the third period. He scored his first goal at 5 minutes, 23 seconds, beating UAA goalie Chris Kamal through the five-hole on a close-range shot. That made it 4-3 Gophers.
Seconds later it was 5-3. This time Haula knocked in a rebound for his second goal of the game and 19th of the season.
UAA’S dike had burst. Defenseman Seth Helgeson and winger Sam Warning scored goals six and seven before the 10-minute mark of the final period.
The Gophers took a 1-0 lead four minutes into the game. Forward Jake Hansen, trying to screen the goalie, tipped defenseman Ben Marshall’s shot from the left point. It was his 12th goal of the season.
And Hansen easily could have had another goal in the opening period. On the Gophers’ third power play of the game, Hansen got the puck in the slot and banged the puck off the crossbar from 25 feet out.
The Gophers had an 8-6 edge in shots, but it should have been more. They had three power plays to one for UAA covering the last 65 seconds of the period.
Six of the Gophers’ shots came on the power play, which looked too predictable. They kept trying to beat Kamal on quick shots from the left circle. He seemed to anticipate that tactic well.
UAA started the second period with a man advantage for 55 seconds and capitalized. Matt Bailey scored his ninth goal of the season on a rebound at 35 seconds. Patterson threw one of his leg pads out to cover the left corner, but Bailey shot over it.
And the Gophers’ troubles were just starting. At 7:11, the referees called two penalties on the home team. Seth Helgeson went in the for elbowing and Seth Ambroz for roughing.
On the 5-on-3, Bailey scored his second goal of the game, putting a shot through the legs of Gophers defensemen Nate Schmidt and the goalie. That made it 2-1 Alaska Anchorage and, 24 seconds later, the Seawolves still up a man took a 3-1 lead. This time Scott Allen scored on a blind backhand from the slot.
All of a sudden, UAA was in control of the game. Up two goals, they could go into a shell.
The Gophers top line countered three minutes later. Bjugstad passed to Kyle Rau who found an open Budish on a two-on-one. Budish just had open net to aim at on his 11th goal.
Then whistles started blowing. The next three penalties, all nicely spaces went against the Seawolves (9-25-2). A roughing call at 12:10, hooking at 16:17 and interference at 18:28.
The Gophers, zero-for-six on the power play, finally got lucky on No. 7. Haula found Bjugstad across the slot for a game-tying goal with 46 seconds left in the middle period.