Finn power. That's all it took for the Gophers to return to St. Paul.
Erik Haula scored two goals early in the third period, 18 seconds apart, to ignite the Gophers in a 7-3 comeback victory over Alaska Anchorage on Saturday night at Mariucci Arena.
The Gophers swept the first two games of their best-of-three, first-round WCHA series with the Seawolves. Friday's score was 2-1, and Haula had two goals in that game, too.
"[Scoring] is my job, I want to help my team win," said Haula, a sophomore center from Pori, Finland.
The sweep of UAA puts the Gophers (26-12-1) into the semifinals of the Final Five next Friday at Xcel Energy Center. As the top seed there, the MacNaughton Cup winners will have a bye in the quarterfinals. They did not advance to the Final Five the past two years.
Saturday's victory also means the Gophers will advance to the NCAA tournament in two weeks, coach Don Lucia said, based on the updated PairWise Rankings. They last played in the NCAA tournament in 2008.
And Saturday, it looked as if the Seawolves, playing in front of a hostile crowd announced at 9,018, would force a third game in this series on Sunday when they took a 3-1 lead in the second period.
Goals by Zach Budish and Nick Bjugstad, on a power play with 46 seconds left in the second period, tied the score at 3-3. One of Haula's two assists set up Bjugstad.
Haula then 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.
Before the scoring on that goal could be announced on the PA system, it was 5-3. This time Haula knocked in a rebound for his second goal of the game and 19th of the season.
"We just couldn't recover from that," Seawolves coach Dave Shyiak said.
UAA'S dike had burst. Defenseman Seth Helgeson and winger Sam Warning scored goals six and seven for the Gophers before the 10-minute mark of the third period.
"[Haula] is very talented," Shyiak said. "He can skate and obviously make plays. But it is not just him. They skate very well, they are talented. They won the regular season for a reason.
"This is a team we don't match up well speedwise. But our guys gave a great effort. We hung around."
The Gophers took a 1-0 lead four minutes into the game on forward Jake Hansen's tip in front.
UAA started the second period with a man advantage for 55 seconds and capitalized to tie the score at 1-1. Matt Bailey scored on a rebound at 35 seconds.
The Gophers' penalty kill troubles were only starting. At 7:11, the referees called two penalties on the home team.
On the 5-on-3, Bailey scored his second goal of the game and, 24 seconds later, the Seawolves (9-25-2) still up a man took a 3-1 lead. This time Scott Allen scored on a blind backhand from the slot.
Three minutes later, Budish scored on a two-on-one rush. And in the last minute of the period, Bjugstad tied it as the Gophers' 0-for-6 power play finally clicked.
"It is going well," Haula said. "We have to have our guys step up and this weekend it was me. Hopefully, we can get more guys next week get on the scoreboard."
The more hockey the better for Haula. "It's fun to play right now," he said.