Rau the latest hero as Gophers sweep Nebraska Omaha

  • Article by: ROMAN AUGUSTOVIZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 26, 2012 - 9:29 AM

The first-place Gophers held on to their WCHA lead over UMD as the freshman scored a pair of goals.

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Nebraska-Omaha's Ryan Walters, left, shoots against Minnesota goalie Kent Patterson during the first period of a college hockey game in Omaha, Neb., Saturday, Feb. 25, 2012.

Photo: Chris Machian, Omaha World-Herald via AP

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OMAHA — The Gophers fired only 19 shots on net, their second-lowest total of the season, but were efficient.

Especially freshman Kyle Rau. He scored twice on power plays as the Gophers edged Nebraska Omaha 3-2 on Saturday at the CenturyLink Center to sweep their WCHA series. That was the same score as in the first game, which went into overtime.

"It seems like every night there is a new guy that steps up," Gophers coach Don Lucia said.

The No. 5 Gophers (23-11-1, 19-7-0) remained alone in first place with the victory, their fourth in a row. UMD also won, staying two points behind the 'U' going into the final weekend of the regular season.

Nebraska Omaha (14-14-6, 11-10-5) was swept in a conference series for the first time this season, even though the Mavericks struck first.

The counter-punch came quickly. Gophers defenseman Mark Alt carried the puck in deep and scored a four-on-four goal on a nifty backhander 42 seconds after UNO's goal.

"Scoring that first goal after they had gone up 1-0 was key for us because they came out with a little better energy than we did," Lucia said.

The 1-1 tie lasted until the next Gophers power play. Rau stuffed in a puck from near the right post at 9:20 for his 15th goal of the season.

"I don't even know how it went in," Rau said. "I think it went in off his pad or something. I just had to throw it back on net and hope someone else could bang it in."

Instead, Rau's shot found a small hole.

UNO coach Dean Blais apparently didn't like what he was seeing. After Rau's goal, he switched goalies. Freshman Ryan Massa, who had 29 saves Friday, was replaced by senior John Faulkner.

Rau put the Gophers ahead 3-1 in the middle period. Erik Haula, cruising down the left side, spotted Rau on the back door, and Faulkner was helpless.

"It was an unbelievable pass," Rau said. "Right on my tape. I didn't have to do much for it. It was all [Haula]."

Earlier in the period, Rau nearly had a shorthanded goal. He made a beeline to the net, and a UNO defenseman fell down trying to stop him. The Mavericks player dislodged the net and both he and the puck went past the goal line. The referees took a long look at the play and waved off the goal because they couldn't see where the puck was under the player.

Of more significance that second period was an undisclosed injury to Nick Bjugstad, the Gophers' top scorer. He was not on the bench for the final period.

He was probably hurt when UNO defenseman Tony Turgeon, who is 6-4 and 232 pounds, checked Bjugstad into the boards. Turgeon got a boarding penalty. Bjugstad continued to play that period. In fact, he was on the ice when Rau scored.

Lucia said that he thinks Bjugstad will be fine.

"He got dinged a little bit and it was questionable whether he should come back in the third," Lucia said, "and we made the decision at that point in time, look at the big picture. There is no sense risking anything for the last period of hockey this weekend."

  • GOPHERS 3, NEBRASKA-OMAHA 2

    Up next: 7 p.m. Friday vs. Wisconsin • Mariucci Arena • TV: FSN plus (1500-AM)

    THE FINAL WEEKEND IN THE WCHA

    1. Gophers: Home against Wisconsin. They split with the Badgers in Madison.

    2. UMD (2 points back): On the road at St. Cloud State. First meeting of season with Huskies.

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