As soon as the penalty was called, Nick Bjugstad looked at his Gophers hockey teammates, knowing they were all thinking the same thing. With just over four minutes left in Friday's game against Alaska Anchorage, the Seawolves had been assessed a five-minute major for checking from behind -- giving the Gophers the opening they needed to rally.
The two power-play units set an aim of scoring one goal each. On a night when nothing else came easily, they made it happen, as Bjugstad and Ben Marshall delivered to give the top-ranked Gophers a dramatic 4-3 victory at Mariucci Arena. The power play connected on three of six opportunities to bail the Gophers out after a sluggish start and extend their winning streak to four games.
Bjugstad scored twice for the Gophers (15-3-3, 7-3-3 WCHA), who have not lost in their past seven games. After the Seawolves' Tyler Currier was given a major penalty and game misconduct for smashing Zach Budish into the boards, Bjugstad scored the tying goal at 16 minutes, 49 seconds of the third period. Marshall followed with the winner at 19:09, delighting an announced crowd of 9,625.
The Gophers were outhustled by the WCHA's last-place team in the first period and fell behind 1-0 on Quinn Sproule's goal at 5:17. Kyle Rau and Bjugstad vaulted the Gophers into the lead with a pair of second-period goals, but defensive lapses in the third led to two Seawolves goals in a span of 3:36.
When the power play got its moment, though, the Gophers brimmed with confidence. They lead the WCHA and are ranked eighth in the country on the power play, and it enabled the Gophers to escape a hard-working opponent that pushed them to the limit.
"We looked at each other and said, 'It's time to go here,' " said Bjugstad, who leads the Gophers with 12 goals. "Five minutes, and you could score as many as you wanted. That was definitely a time to take advantage, and thankfully, both power play [units] did."
Gophers coach Don Lucia said he wasn't surprised that the Gophers came out flat. They defeated No. 2 Notre Dame only three days ago, while Alaska Anchorage (3-12-4, 1-11-3) resumed play last weekend after a three-week break.
That said, Lucia did not let his players off the hook. The Seawolves peppered Adam Wilcox with seven shots before his teammates managed to get their first. By the time they did -- 6:13 into the game -- Alaska Anchorage had claimed a 1-0 lead on a goal by its fourth line.
The Seawolves seized an early lead when Chris Crowell gained control of the puck behind the Gophers net and slid it to Sproule, who wheeled to the right goal post and stuffed it through Wilcox's pads for his second goal of the season. Lucia scolded his team at the intermission, and the power play lifted it out of its funk in the second period.
Rau, at the right edge of the crease, tipped Sam Warning's shot past Seawolves goalie Rob Gunderson to tie it 1-1. That gave the Gophers a burst of energy, and they took the lead when Seawolves defenseman Blake Leask lost the puck along the left boards near the blue line. Christian Isaacson pounced on it and delivered it to an open Bjugstad for a wrist shot from the left circle.
But lapses in the third period cost them the lead. The Seawolves pulled the puck out of a scrum in the corner of the Gophers' zone to set up Daniel Naslund's tying goal at 10:37, and the Gophers defense was caught flatfooted on Scott Allen's go-ahead score at 14:13.
But the power play prevailed, leaving Lucia in a good mood. "It's more fun when you don't [struggle]," he said. "We had to work for it. But if you're going to win, you've got to work for it."