Coming into the weekend, Minnesota had a two point lead in the WCHA. Three Gopher wins in their final four games would clinch the MacNaughton Cup. Although Friday's game was in jeopardy from the second period on, Minnesota dug deep and outscored Nebraska-Omaha 2-0 in the third period and overtime to steal two big points and maintain their lead in the WCHA standings over Minnesota-Duluth.
Friday 2/24/12 - 3-2 Gopher Win
Minnesota struggled in the first five minutes of play. It looked like the Gophers were becoming accustomed to a new building and a new team - Minnesota and Nebraska-Omaha last played in October 2010.
Once the Gophers found their groove, though, they dominated the first period. Sam Warning put the Gophers on top with his fifth goal of the season at 5:53. Warning received an ice-length pass from Nate Schmidt, and the Gophers had a 2-on-1 with Warning and Jake Hansen. Warning, showing a confidence that he's been playing with for four or five straight weekends, elected to shoot, and from the left circle Warning's wrister beat Omaha goalie Ryan Massa high on the glove side.
Minnesota continued to control the first period, outshooting Nebraska-Omaha by an 11-6 margin in the opening frame. However, despite several scoring chances the Gophers were not able to add to their lead, and after one period Minnesota held a 1-0 lead.
Nebraska-Omaha controlled the second period as much as Minnesota had dominated the first. The Mavericks tied the game at one on a Brock Montpetit goal just as a UNO powerplay expired at 7:51. Minnesota received a powerplay of their own at 9:35, but it was the Mavericks that took advantage as freshman Jayson Menga scored his twelfth of the year on a shorthanded 2-on-1. Menga, streaking down the right wing and getting in close to Gopher goalie Kent Patterson before top-shelfing a shot high over Patterson's glove side at 11:06. The Gophers began to pick up their play after the Mavericks' second goal, but despite a large number of high-quality scoring chances Minnesota could not beat Ryan Massa and the Mavericks took their 2-1 lead into the second intermission.
Good teams, though, find a way to win. The Gophers could not get anything past Massa for the first few minutes of the game, but Minnesota's leading scorer put the team on his back and tied the game. Nick Bjugstad took the puck out of the right corner and slid a backhand shot along the ice that somehow got through a screened Massa's five-hole and tied the game at two goals each. Both teams received one powerplay opportunity each throughout the remainder of the third period, but neither the Gophers nor the Mavericks could take advantage of their chance, and by the end of regulation play the teams were knotted at two each and heading to the extra session.
The overtime would not last long. Jake Parenteau, perhaps the Gophers most outstanding defensive defenseman, snapped a wrist shot off from the left point that made its way through traffic and into the upper-left corner of the net. The goal came just 1:46 into the overtime period, and it was Parenteau's first of the season and the first of his Gopher career. The Gophers jumped off the bench and hogpiled on Parenteau in the middle of the ice.
Three Gopher Stars of the Game
3. Sam Warning - 1G-0A-1P
Warning scored the first goal of the game, and has been playing well since he was benched in the first game of the Colorado College series more than a month ago. Number eleven has noticeably picked up his game, and very well could have received a star in last week's games against Bemidji State. The play of the whole second line has been one of the big keys in the Gophers' improved performances of late, and Warning's success can only help the team going forward.
2. Nick Bjugstad - 1G-0A-1P
Bjugstad is Minnesota's best offensive player, and the sophomore's individual effort tied the game at two in the third period. Bjugstad's goal was his 23rd of the season, good for third in the nation. This team can go as far as Bjugstad can carry it - as I've been saying all season, Bjugstad needs to score for this team to win. He did, and the Gophers did win the game.
1. Jake Parenteau - 1G-0A-1P
Parenteau picked a good time to score the first goal of his career. His overtime tally won the game and gave the Gophers a crucial two points on the night. Parenteau is the team's best defensive defenseman and has been a stalwart on the blueline all year. He's been given accolades in the three stars segment before for being a lock-down defender, but scoring the game-winner in a huge game definitely deserves the number one star of the night.
With UMD winning their game against CC in overtime last night, the Gophers needed points to remain in the lead in the WCHA standings. The win was huge in the race for the MacNaughton Cup, and with it the Gophers' magic number to win the league is now four points over UMD (any combination of Gopher points won and UMD points lost). Minnesota controls its own destiny, as two wins in their next three games wins the cup, and they could win it tonight with a win and a UMD loss.