In front of a raucous crowd of 10,234, the tenth-largest crowd in the history of the current Mariucci Arena, fifth-ranked Minnesota grinded out a 3-2 win over No. 15 North Dakota on Saturday night. Freshman Kyle Rau recorded his nation-leading fourth game-winning goal with 46 seconds left to cap a third-period Gopher comeback and lift UM to a 9-1-0 record (6-0-0 in the WCHA).
For the second straight night, sophomore Nick Bjugstad scored the game’s first goal. After a Zach Budish chance in front that was stopped by UND goaltender Aaron Dell, Bjugstad swatted home his eighth goal of the season on the backhand 7:19 into the game.
Unwilling to fall into a two-goal hole for like it did on Friday, North Dakota responded quickly with a tally on its second power play of the night.
Eight seconds after Seth Ambroz took an interference penalty, Brock Nelson ripped a quick shot from the right circle that beat Minnesota netminder Kent Patterson high on the glove side to knot the score.
The Gophers were inches away from regaining the lead 6:25 into the middle frame when Sam Warning and Jake Hansen broke into the UND zone unabated. Warning dished a pass to Hansen in an attempt to complete a give-and-go, but a hook by North Dakota backchecker Danny Kristo disrupted Hansen’s shooting effort.
UND killed the ensuing minor penalty on Kristo and wasted little time taking the lead.
Freshman Rocco Grimaldi, who missed the series opener, scored the first goal of his young collegiate career 14 seconds later to make the score 2-1.
For only the second time this year, the Gophers entered the final 20 minutes of play with a deficit.
Grimaldi almost potted his second marker of the night with just over 13 minutes to play, but pressure from behind by Mark Alt and a quick leg save by Patterson kept the puck out of the net.
Alt was called for hooking on the play, but Minnesota killed off the UND man advantage that followed.
With the time left to score the tying goal dwindling, the Gophers’ energetic fourth line came up huge for the second time in as many nights.
Senior Nick Larson, who was robbed by Dell on two shots in the first period, netted his first goal of the season with 6:04 to go by sneaking a one-time shot inside the left post.
Minutes later, Patterson came up with his two biggest saves of the weekend to keep the score level.
The HCA National Goaltender of the Month for October denied Nelson with an acrobatic save off a one-time feed from Ben Blood at the 16:32 mark and turned away a point-blank chance by Corban Knight just over 60 ticks later.
Patterson’s big saves set the stage for Rau’s last-minute heroics, which capped Minnesota’s first sweep of North Dakota since Dec. 9 and 10, 2006 and sent the home crowd into a frenzy.
The Gophers last swept UND at Mariucci Arena on March 8 and 9, 2002 in the first round of the WCHA playoffs and last did it in the regular season on Nov. 8 and 9, 1996.
UM returns to action next weekend on the road against border rival Wisconsin.