The fifth-ranked Minnesota men’s hockey team jumped out to a 1-0 lead in its best-of-three first-round playoff series by earning a 2-1 win over Alaska Anchorage at Mariucci Arena on Friday night. With a win against the Seawolves on Saturday or Sunday (if necessary), the top-seeded Gophers will advance the WCHA Final Five for the first time in three years.
Each team had its share of chances, but Minnesota goaltender Kent Patterson and UAA netminder Chris Kamal were sharp in the opening 20 minutes and the game remained scoreless after the first period.
Jake Hansen of Minnesota had one of the period’s best chances. After jarring the puck loose from a Seawolf defender deep in the offensive zone, the senior forward walked in front for a shorthanded point-blank scoring opportunity. Hansen also set up defenseman Nate Schmidt for a one-time blast from the point. Kamal, however, was up the challenge on both chances.
Early in the middle stanza, Minnesota took the lead for the first time in four playoff games, dating back to Mar. 13, 2010.
At the 1:42 mark, Schmidt hit fellow sophomore Erik Haula with a blueline-to-blueline pass to send him in alone. Haula then beat Kamal with a snapshot into the top right corner of the net to make it 1-0.
With the goal, the sophomore center took the team lead in points with 39. Fellow second-year forward Nick Bjugstad is second with 38.
Just before the midway point of regulation, Haula doubled the Gophers’ lead.
Haula potted his second goal of the night and 17th of the season by banging home a Schmidt rebound after a Schmidt wrist shot from the point hit the right post and bounced right to Haula. Minnesota's goals came 8:10 apart.
Alaska Anchorage wouldn’t go down easily, however, as the visitors made it a one-goal game just two ticks before the second period ended.
Working on a power play after Seth Ambroz took an interference penalty with 59.2 seconds to play, Blaine, Minn.-native Eric Scheid fed teammate Brad Gorham with a backdoor pass. Gorham deposited his second goal of the season just before the horn sounded.
After conceding nine shots on goal in the first period, the Gophers buckled down on defense in the final 40 minutes, allowing just four shots in each of the last two frames.
Patterson finished the night with 16 saves for his 25th win of the season and the Gophers improved to 27-3 in WCHA postseason games at the current Mariucci Arena.
Minnesota has advanced to the second round of the playoffs each of the 30 times it has won the first game of the first round. The Gophers will look to continue that trend on Saturday in Game 2 of the series, which begins at 7 p.m. If necessary, the teams will meet again on Sunday night at 7.
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