On to St. Paul!
The No. 2-seeded Golden Gophers defeated No. 11-seed Bemidji State 4-3 Saturday night to advance to the semifinals of the WCHA Final Five.
After escaping 2-1 in overtime in the series opener Friday, Minnesota nearly wound up in the extra period again (or playing a third game on Sunday), trailing 2-0 and 3-1 before scoring two third period goals to ice the game and close out the series. The win was the Gophers' fourth in as many games against Bemidji State.
Rugged win in the last WCHA game ever at Mariucci Arena: "Hats off to coach Tom Serratore and his Bemidji State team," Gophers head coach Do Lucia told me after the game. "They gave us everything we wanted and this game -- and in fact, the series -- could have gone either way. It wasn't until we tied it 3-3 in the third that I thought we would win the game."
The Beavers struck first on a first period power play goal by Jordan George and a second period marker by Cory Ward. With the score 2-0, Minnesota's Nick Bjugstad rapped a power play goal off the crossbar at 15:33 of the second to get the Gophers on the board. But only fourteen seconds later, Bemidji State's Jeff Jubinville roared back and scored to once again put the Beavers up by two, 3-1.
A smiling Ben Marshall talks about his goal in a postgame interview with FOX Sports North's Ben Clymer.From there, though, the scoring -- if not the momentum, which swung back and forth all night -- was all Minnesota's. Nate Condon brought the score back to a one goal margin late in the second. In the third, A.J. Michaelson tied it 3-3 with his third goal of the season at 7:38. But the issue wasn't decided until Ben Marshall, who has had a terrific second half of the season, scored with 53 seconds left in regulation time to give Minnesota its only lead of the game. It held up for a 4-3 win.
Marshall was named first star of the game. Erik Haula, who was credited with three assists, was second star while defenseman Mark Alt, who played a terrific game, was third.
Minnesota poured 41 shots onto BSU sophomore goalie Andrew Walsh, who nearly sent the series to three games with his sparkling play both Friday and Saturday nights.
Gopher netminder Adam Wilcox turned back 19 of the 22 shots he faced.
Pairings still underdetermined: Here's what we know: The Gophers will play in the WCHA Final Five Friday night semifinal at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. As the surviving No. 2 seed, they also will get to skip an extra day of play on Thursday. Four other teams will play then with the survivors facing off against St. Cloud State Friday afternoon and the Gophers that night.
Here's what we don't know: The opponent.
That's because several series were forced to a third game. When the smoke clears Sunday night, the six surviving teams will be re-ranked in order of regular-season conference finish. Then it's No. 6 vs. No. 3 and No. 5 vs. No. 4 on Thursday afternoon and evening. The winners of those matchups face the Gophers and Huskies on Friday.
Gophers women head for Frozen Four: Meanwhile, next door at Ridder Arena, the Minnesota women's team played nearly two full games Saturday evening before dispatching North Dakota 3-2 in three overtimes. And it nearly went to four. Junior Kelly Terry swatted in the game-winning goal with 1:09 remaining in the third overtime to keep the Golden Gophers' season alive.
At 118 minutes 51 seconds, it was the longest game in the program's history.
The win extended the Gophers' season record to an astonishing 39-0-0. It also pushed their NCAA-record winning streak, which goes back to last season, to 47 games.
Minnesota will now play Boston College in the semifinals of the NCAA Women's Frozen Four, also at Ridder Arena, on Friday. Game time is yet to be determined.
Check back every day this week as I update pairings, results and news from the WCHA playoffs in the Twin Cities. And join us Friday at 7:00 (6:30 for "Gophers Live") as Minnesota swings into the semifinals. It's all on FOX Sports North!