Monday, January 21, 2008

Just what they needed

Hello PJS fans. My name is Eric and I’m a Gopher fan, but more importantly to this great blog, a hockey fan. I hope to provide some pre-weekend and post-weekend analysis of the Gophers as the team fights to finish in the top five in the WCHA and hopefully keep alive a NCAA berth this season.

Since I am an active media member, I will attempt to have a few stories on players and some post-game reactions from players and coaches when I have time to make it to Mariucci. I hope you enjoy.

Entering the weekend on the bottom half looking up, Minnesota took two huge steps in moving into the top five with a 1-1 tie Friday and 2-1 win Saturday over fourth-place Minnesota-Duluth. The three points, on the road at the DECC, moved the Gophers into a three-way tie for fifth with St. Cloud State and Wisconsin.

The top five teams at the end of the season host playoff first-round series.

The Gophers, on the heels of a 3-1 loss and 4-4 tie at St. Cloud State, a game in which Minnesota led 4-1, were on the verge of a make or break point. With a series against a team above them in the standings, more than a split was needed at Duluth.

In game one, freshman goaltender Alex Kangas made 18 saves on 19 shots and gave his team a chance to win. However, the Gophers managed just one goal on the evening as Ben Gordon scored his eighth goal of the season on assists from Blake Wheeler and Mike Howe early in the third period.

UMD got the equalizer seven minutes later on an even strength goal on Matt McKnight’s fifth goal of the year.

With four minutes left, the No. 16 Bulldogs had a 5-on-3 power play for 1:22 and managed only one shot.

Gordon was quoted in the Star Tribune as saying: “We played a lot better than we have been the past couple of months. As far as keeping the puck down low and controlling it, and keeping it on our stick.”

Alex Stalock, a standout goaltender from South St. Paul, made 26 saves in the tie for the Bulldogs.

In the second game of the series, Minnesota got another standout performance from the freshman netminder, and goals from two unlikely scorers to eek out a 2-1 win.

Tony Lucia scored his fifth goal of the season on a rebound shot from Kevin Wehrs from the point. Lucia wristed the rebound top right corner past a stunned Stalock at 12:24 of the first period.
In the second, Mike Carman’s first goal of the season – only his fourth game back after sitting out the first half of the season due to academic ineligibility – came off a perfect pass from linemate Jay Barriball, who took the defenseman into the corner and dumped a pass out in front to Carman.

"This was a big game for us tonight," Carman said postgame. "We knew we needed to come out of here tonight with three points. We cannot keep sliding by with losses and ties every weekend.

"We were disappointed a little bit - we obviously tied [Friday] night. We played a good game. We felt we could have come out with a win [Friday] night. It was good to get that victory tonight."

UMD rallied within a goal on a power-play blast from defenseman Jason Garrison with 11 minutes remaining. However, Kangas was up to the task, collecting 25 saves in his first back-to-back starts of his collegiate career.

“Alex gave a strong game in the nets,” Lucia said. “I don't think he saw that one goal he gave up tonight. It was a great shot on their part. From a team defensive standpoint, I thought we did a terrific job all weekend.”

The Gophers travel to rival Wisconsin for a two-game series next weekend. The Badgers, who have an identical conference record of 6-8-2, beat Alaska-Anchorage 2-1 and earned a 4-4 tie for three points on the road.

Notes:
* WIth the performance of Kangas this past weekend, I would expect Lucia to stick with him heading into the Wisconsin series. Although in recent years Frazee has played well in the Kohl Center, but he may be too far in the doghouse at this point.

* Did you know that Tony Lucia's fifth goal of the season Saturday made him the fourth leading scorer on the team this season? Blake Wheeler has 12 goals, Ben Gordon has eight and Mike Hoeffel has six. What does this mean? The offense hasn't gotten the production it has needed from at least three players.

They are:
1. Jay Barriball: 3 goals (had 20 goals last year)
2. Mr. Hockey Patrick White: 3 goals
3. Evan Kauffman: 4 goals (had 11 last year in only 32 games)

R.J. Anderson, who coming into his junior season had recorded no goals in two seasons, has four this season.

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