The Gophers couldn’t hide it anymore. Panic, frustration, anger or whatever they want to call it set in as the final seconds ticked away in a 2-1 loss to No. 7 Minnesota Duluth in Saturday evening’s North Star College Cup consolation game at Xcel Energy Center.
The tournament’s defending champion and host had just been swept in the state’s college hockey showcase, and a chance to improve on what’s becoming a grim picture had been lost.
The way it slipped away added to the Gophers’ pain. Duluth managed to get off only two shots on goal in the third period, and the first was the game-winner. Adam Krause scored his second goal of the night on an assist from Alex Iafallo with 2:11 left in the game.
Iafallo and Dominic Toninato assisted on both UMD goals, and Matt McNeely had 31 saves for the Bulldogs.
“We’re angry,” Gophers senior assistant captain Ben Marshall said. “We took fourth place out of four teams, so we’re not happy.”
Deflated is one of the several ways captain Kyle Rau described the Gophers after the team’s fifth loss in eight games.
“We’re disappointed. Two minutes to go, we win a draw and we can’t get it out and they score,” Rau said. “That’s what happens, we haven’t closed out games multiple times this year and it’s getting frustrating.
“Look at the third period, we killed it for 18 minutes and they scored. You see when we start playing with urgency we have a good team, but the problem is we don’t get there for the full 60 [minutes]. … We thought the game was ours. … Just one of those games they capitalized on their chance, and we had multiple chances to win it or get ahead in the third and we couldn’t bury it.”
Rau scored the Gophers’ only goal after another slow start. He played two periods without getting a shot off. But unlike Friday’s slow night, he converted on his first chance early in the third period, avoiding a check to position himself in front of the Bulldogs’ net and finishing the feed from Justin Kloos from behind the net.
The goal was Rau’s first since Jan. 3 and ended a four-game scoreless drought.
Duluth’s offense died out in a bad way in the third period. Nearly 18 minutes passed before they produced a shot on goal and the eventual game-winner. The Gophers picked up their offensive pressure in the period and won the shots-on-goal battle 32-26, but their scoring problems continue.
Adam Wilcox had 24 saves and kept the Gophers (11-9-2) in the game with several big stops in the second period.
Both teams entered the consolation game in a rut. The Bulldogs (14-9-1) had lost three in a row and the Gophers have won only two games since Jan. 1. Krause knew both teams would be hungry for a victory in the consolation matchup.
“Two struggling teams right now and we knew they were going to be desperate, but I got a good pass, good bounce from Al and here we are,” Krause said. “They have the expectations just like we do, and we showed a lot of guts in the third period by kind of not playing our best and coming out with the win.”
The Bulldogs have beaten the Gophers in three of their four meetings this season and avenged last year’s loss to the Gophers in the North Star College Cup championship game.