(Brace Hemmelgarn/Icon SMI)
The Gophers had to come from behind in the third to win, as Nick Bjugstad led the way with two power play goals, including the game winner. St Cloud and North Dakota also won, and because they beat the two teams in fourth place, that clinched a top 3 finish for Minnesota.
It wasn't pretty, but in the end Minnesota got the result it needed with a come-from-behind 4-3 victory against Bemidji that not only clinched home-ice advantage in the first round of the WCHA playoffs, but because of victories by St Cloud and North Dakota, also clinched a top three finish in the WCHA. While that's a crucial accomplishment, St Cloud's victory also assures the Huskies of at least a share of their first-ever MacNaughton Cup, and guarantees them the #1 seed. The Gophers and Whioux, still two points back, are left to battle it out for 2nd and 3rd, and that difference could be important, as the #1 and #2 seeds (assuming they win their first round series, of course) gets a bye to the Final Five semis, while #3 has to play in the Final Five quarters for the right to get to the semis.
Bemidji was expected to try and play the game at their tempo on home ice, and for the most part they did. Ben Marshall opened the scoring for Minnesota just five minutes in, but Matt Prapavessis tied it just four minutes later. Bjugstad scored his first PP goal of the night just two minutes into the second, and the lead lasted almost the entire period before Cory Ward scored two goals for the Beavers less than five minutes apart, one at the end of the second to tie, the next as the third period began to give Bemidji its first lead. BSU tried to lock it down, but the Gophers were able to pressure, and Justin Holl scored a big goal to tie it seven minutes into the period, and then after the two teams traded chances,
Bjugstad put Minnesota back ahead on another power play goal scored from his favorite spot in the left slot. The right-handed Bjugstad received a great cross-ice pass from defenseman Nate Schmidt, giving Bjuggy time to fake, then rifle a shot glove high for the winner. The Beavers furious pressure late fell short as Gopher goalie Adam Wilcox made a couple of big saves late to preserve the win. Minnesota outshot Bemidji 28-27, was 2-4 on the power play, and held BSU off the scoresheet in their two power play chances.
The Gophers' hopes for an outright MacNaughton Cup and #1 seed went by the wayside as St Cloud notched a come-from-behind win of their own thanks to three third period goals for a 4-2 win over Wisconsin. Thanks for nothing, Becky. Because they started the weekend two points up and hold the tie-breaker over both the U and UND, the Huskies needed just one win to clinch the #1 seed and a share of their first-ever WCHA regular season championship and got it because, just in case you ever doubted it, Wisconsin sucks. The Whioux managed to hang on for a 4-3 win at Mankato, and while nobody wins when the Whioux win, it at least clinched a top three seed for Minnesota. Both Mankato and Becky are tied for fourth place, and because of their losses remain four points back of third place with just one game to play, and since there's no four-point game (at least that we're aware of) they cannot catch Minnesota or UND for third.
Two other finals are in and both are mild upset as Tech beat CC and Duluth beat UNO. Denver plays UAA later tonight and with a win can move into a three-way tie with Sconnie and MSU for fourth.
So the Gophers hopes of a #1 seed are done, but clinching a top three seed is big, and can now hope for a share of the MacNaughton Cup if they win and Becky can try not to blow another third period lead. I know, it's asking a lot from the BADgers for them to not to blow, but just this once. A Gopher victory Saturday night would guarantee them no worse than second and a bye into the Final Five semis (again, barring disaster in the WCHA first round) as Minnesota holds the tie-breaker over North Dakota. Game time Saturday night is 7pm on TV on FSN+.