The No. 7 Minnesota men’s hockey team cemented home-ice advantage in the first round of the WCHA playoffs by defeating in-state foe Bemidji State 4-1 on Saturday night at Mariucci Arena. The victory secured the team’s seventh sweep of the season and moved the Gophers two points ahead of Minnesota-Duluth for first place in the conference.
For the third consecutive game, the Gophers struck first in the first two minutes of the game.
Just 1:17 into the contest, sophomore Erik Haula took a pass from Jake Hansen at the BSU blueline and zipped a snapshot over the left shoulder of Beaver goaltender Dan Bakala.
The goal was Haula’s 13th of the season and was his second goal in the last three games that came on his first shift.
At the 15:51 mark, Nick Bjugstad took Minnesota’s first penalty of the weekend for checking from behind. On the ensuing power play, Bemidji State’s Brad Hunt knotted the score by blasting a shot from the point past Gopher netminder Kent Patterson.
It would be the only time the Beavers scored all weekend on 35 shots.
Minnesota wasted little time regaining the lead in the second period. Hansen tipped a Justin Holl laser from the blueline inside the right post to make it 2-1 just 2:05 into the middle stanza.
Just as BSU did, the Gophers capitalized on their first power play of the game.
Seven seconds after Jeff Jubinville took the first of his two second-period penalties, Kyle Rau found Haula at the hash mark of the right circle and Haula one-timed a shot under the crossbar for his second goal of the night, cushioning his team’s lead.
Bemidji State came within inches of making it a one-goal game midway through regulation, but Brance Orban’s shot from the half wall hit the post after whizzing by Patterson. Orban had another chance from the right circle seconds later after Patterson lost his stick, but the Gopher goaltender kicked the shot aside.
Hansen had the period’s last quality scoring chance with under two minutes to go, but his breakaway shot on Bakala sailed over the net.
The Beavers, who reeled off nine shots in each of the last two periods after getting just 17 shots on net in the first four periods of the weekend, were unable to beat Patterson in the final frame. BSU’s best chance was a shot by Orban that hit a Gopher defender and went on goal. Patterson stopped the redirection and covered it to keep it a two-goal game.
After Bemidji State pulled Bakala with 1:52 remaining, Seth Ambroz iced the game with an empty-net goal after receiving a pass from Nate Condon.
With the victory, the Gophers moved to 10-1-1 all-time against BSU, and finished the 2011-12 regular season with a 9-1-0 mark against in-state teams.
Minnesota will travel to Nebraska-Omaha next weekend before concluding regular-season play against Border Battle rival Wisconsin on March 2-3. The Gophers will host a first-round playoff series that begins on March 9.