Two of the Gophers' second-line forwards stole the spotlight against Bemidji State on Saturday.
Center Erik Haula scored two goals and linemate Jake Hansen one as the No. 7-rated Gophers beat the Beavers 4-1 at Mariucci Arena to sweep their WCHA series. Both had one assist, too. Seth Ambroz added an empty-net goal for the home team at the end.
With the victory, the Gophers (21-11-1, 17-7-0) clinched home ice for the first round of the conference playoffs and widened their lead in the WCHA race.
Second-place Minnesota Duluth, which gave up two late goals 10 seconds apart, had to settle for a 4-4 overtime tie at Minnesota State to fall two points behind the Gophers. Denver lost 5-2 at Wisconsin to drop four points back. The three contenders for the MacNaughton Cup all have four conference games left.
But back to Mariucci Arena, which was packed with an announced crowd of 10,202.
One night after the Gophers' first line had three goals and three assists in a 3-0 victory over BSU, Haula and Hansen almost duplicated that production with five points.
This was Haula's fourth two-goal game this season, but the other three were in October.
"That's been bugging me a little bit," said the sophomore from Pori, Finland. "Not being able to score and produce for the team. Obviously, when your top two lines get on the board it helps your team to win."
Haula, a Wild seventh-round draft pick in 2009, now has 14 goals and 21 assists for 35 points -- one behind scoring leader Nick Bjugstad.
Hansen, a senior assistant captain, now has 29 points. He was all over the ice, with nine shots.
"We played great already [Friday]," Haula said. "We just weren't able to put any in. You keep working hard, you keep getting chances, eventually, they are going to go in."
For the third consecutive game, the Gophers scored in under 90 seconds. Haula started the trend last weekend, scoring 38 seconds into the second game at Denver.
Saturday, Haula scored at 1:17 on his team's first shot. He took a centering pass from Hansen on his right and scored on a 30-footer from the slot.
"When you get a goal on the first shift, it gets the team going and the crowd going," Haula said, "so it is easier to play. Hans made a great play on the blue line [to start the rush] and the goalie was out of the position."
The Gophers' one-goal lead stood until the Beavers got their first power-play opportunity of the weekend late in the first period. BSU (15-14-3, 9-12-3) patiently worked the puck around the perimeter for 83 seconds in the Gophers' zone before defenseman Brad Hunt's goal from the point.
Hansen's persistence this game paid off two minutes into the second period. He tipped defenseman Justin Holl's shot from the point past Beavers goalie Dan Bakala.
Haula made it 3-1 five minutes later on a power play. Defenseman Nate Schmidt found Kyle Rau down low. Rau passed to Haula for a one-timer from the right circle.
Haula said Denver's sweep of the Gophers last weekend got the players' attention. "It brought our team together," he said, "and we realized how important every game is."