As the Gophers prepared for overtime in Friday’s WCHA playoff opener, winger Kyle Rau did not feel discouraged. Though Bemidji State had tied it 1-1 with 38 seconds remaining in the third period, the Gophers had controlled most of the game — and Rau felt he knew how things would end at Mariucci Arena.
“We knew if we kept putting the puck on net, we’d eventually get another one in,’’ he said. “It wasn’t going to be some flashy play with the way both goalies were playing.’’
Rau wrote the ending just as he envisioned.
At 13 minutes, 18 seconds of overtime, he collected a rebound of his own shot in the slot and shoveled it past Beavers goalie Andrew Walsh to give the No. 2 Gophers a 2-1 victory. The Gophers (25-7-5) outshot the Beavers 51-18, but Walsh led a lion-hearted effort by Bemidji State that forced them to work overtime in the first game of the best-of-three series.
Walsh made a number of spectacular stops among his 49 saves, and his teammates blocked 27 shots. With Walsh pulled for the final 55 seconds of the third period, Brance Orban made a nice move across the goalmouth to beat Adam Wilcox and tie the score.
That set the stage for Rau, who extended the Gophers’ victory streak to four games with his seventh game-winning goal of the season.
“This is all part of it at this time of year,’’ said Gophers coach Don Lucia, noting that top-ranked Quinnipiac and No. 3 Miami (Ohio) both lost Friday. “It’s a fine line, and the goaltender can be the equalizer.
“I liked the way we played all game long. I think the overtime was good for us. It does a lot for our confidence moving forward.’’
The Beavers (6-21-8) had won only one of their previous 18 games, but they are a persistent and hard-working team.
The Gophers anticipated that playing on their larger home ice sheet would allow them to maximize their speed and playmaking skills, but Walsh and his teammates frustrated them through most of the game.
Rau set up Ben Marshall to give the Gophers a 1-0 lead at 6:56 of the second as the Gophers outshot Bemidji State 28-7 in the first 40 minutes.
Rau carried the puck down the left wing to the end boards, then flicked the puck to an open Marshall in the high slot. That gave the Gophers a little extra spark, but Walsh prevented it from becoming a flame.
The Gophers mixed up their line combinations, largely because of the absence of second-line wing Sam Warning, who suffered an unspecified injury in practice last week and could be sidelined until the NCAA tournament.
They generated 94 attempted shots to the Beavers’ 40. But after Marshall’s goal, Walsh turned away a number of good chances, including a Nick Bjugstad breakaway in the third period, to keep his team close.
Orban finished a tenacious play by getting the puck at the left edge of the crease, then dragging it across to the right and pushing it past Wilcox.
In the overtime, Walsh made an outstanding toe save on Seth Ambroz at the right post, while Wilcox stopped seven shots by the resurgent Beavers. After Rau ended it, Beavers coach Tom Serratore said his team will try to be as resilient as the Gophers in Saturday’s rematch.
“It stings,’’ he said. “But you’ve got to wipe it out of your memory bank and get ready to compete.’’