It might be tempting for the Gophers to try and forget about the first two periods of Friday's 5-3 victory over Minnesota Duluth. They let a 2-0 lead slip away, their defense and power play were lacking, and they were frequently outhustled by a team that had not won in nearly a month.
Center Erik Haula plans to remember that 40-minute stretch Saturday, when the No. 2 Gophers wrap up the series at Mariucci Arena. A much-improved third period -- highlighted by Kyle Rau's game-winning goal at 13 minutes, 25 seconds -- bailed the Gophers out, giving them two points that vaulted them into a second-place tie with Nebraska Omaha in the WCHA standing. They also are only one point behind league-leading St. Cloud State.
Still, Haula said the Gophers (21-6-4, 13-6-4) ought to be angry about the way they started out a series critical to their conference title hopes.
Haula did his part with a pair of goals. But UMD (10-17-4, 8-13-4) scored three times in the second period before sagging in the third, a common thread in a 0-7-1 winless streak.
The Gophers outshot the Bulldogs 16-4 in the third period and got some big saves from goalie Adam Wilcox to escape. That wasn't enough to satisfy Haula, and he said it shouldn't please his teammates, either.
"In the first and second periods, we were a little sloppy,'' Haula said. "We have to be better at the little things. I think we got better, and we played really well in the third.
"We can't be happy. We can't have a full stomach after winning one game. We've definitely got to be a little [angry] with how we played in the first and second periods and come out hard in the first [Saturday].''
At times Friday, the Gophers clicked beautifully on offense behind their team speed and crisp passing. Nate Condon scored on a shot that got under UMD goalie Matt McNeely at 4:04 of the first, and Haula finished off a heads-up play when the Gophers were shorthanded in the second. After UMD lost the puck, Zach Budish chased it into their zone and waited for the charging Haula to reach the slot, then fed him a pass for a goal and a 2-0 lead at 7:50.
But too often, the Gophers allowed the Bulldogs to get loose around the net for close-range shots. In the second period, Justin Crandall pounced on a loose puck near the crease to score on a power play, and Austin Farley tied it 2-2 when he was left alone to pop in a rebound. After Sam Warning restored the Gophers' lead on a slick move to the net, Farley corralled another rebound for a backdoor goal that tied it at 3-3 with 44 seconds left in the period.
The Bulldogs scored on two of three power-play opportunities in the second period and hit goal posts three times. The Gophers were completely out of sorts on three power plays in the first 40 minutes and went 0-for-5 in the game.
"I thought our emotions weren't quite there," Gophers coach Don Lucia said. "We were quiet [Thursday] at practice, and we were quiet for a lot of the game [Friday].
"We got better as the game went on. Give our guys credit for finding a way to win the third period and win the game."
Rau had not scored a goal in eight games, going back to his hat trick against Alaska-Anchorage on Jan. 12. Just after a faceoff in the UMD zone, he banged in a shot from the bottom of the left circle. "The puck just kind of found my stick,'' he said. "I'll take it any way I can get it.''