MINNEAPOLIS – Bemidji State’s stellar defensive effort against Minnesota made it a game.
Goalie Andrew Walsh gave BSU a chance, stopping 40 shots in regulation to set up a fantastic finish with the Gophers.
Brance Orban scored the equalizer with 38 seconds to go in regulation to send it into overtime and silence the 9,954 packed into Mariucci Arena in their Western Collegiate Hockey Association first-round playoff series.
But the Beavers couldn’t find that second goal.
Kyle Rau scored 13 minutes, 18 seconds into the overtime period to give the Golden Gophers the 2-1 win and a 1-0 series lead. The teams return to the ice tonight at 7:07 p.m. Bemidji State needs a win to extend the series to a third game on Sunday.
BSU head coach Tom Serratore was proud of his team’s effort against the No. 2-ranked Gophers.
“It was one of those games where we felt that as it was going on that good things can happen for us,” Serratore said. “But don’t take anything away from (Minnesota). They had 50 shots. They pushed the pace and played hard. I’m proud of our guys and I’m sure (Gopher head coach Don Lucia) is proud of his guys, too.”
In the end, Walsh finished with a career-high 49 saves and the BSU defense blocked 27 shots, but Rau scored off a Nate Schmidt rebound with just less than seven minutes to go to net the game-winner.
“I thought we played well all game long,” Lucia said. “But it was going to take a rebound goal to beat Walsh. He was really good. He was on.”
After losing both games against Minnesota last weekend at the Sanford Center, the Beavers (6-21-8) struggled for the first 40 minutes against the Gophers (25-7-5). Ben Marshall scored the lone Gopher goal in the second period – with an assist from Rau, who had two points on the night – despite numerous chances in the first two frames.
At the 6:56 mark, Rau made a nice play behind the Beaver net, digging the puck out of the crease then saucering it to some open ice in the slot. None of the three Beavers around the net could get to it before Marshall, who slid in on one knee and fired it past Walsh to make it 1-0.
The Gophers outshot the Beavers 14-3 in both the first and second periods.
In the third, though, BSU made it interesting. Although the Gophers took the first six shots the Beavers started keeping better care of the puck.
In one shift early in the period, the Beavers cycled the puck all over their zone and got more shots in that minute span (four) than they did in the entire first or second periods. BSU’s Brad Robbins capped it off with a big slapshot from the point that necessitated a full extension from Wilcox. He dove to the ice like a shortstop and caught the puck with his glove to get the whistle.
The Gophers had a late power play on a Radoslav Illo penalty, but the Beavers got the kill and had momentum in the final minute to tie the game.
With Walsh pulled for an extra attacker, Orban corralled a loose puck in front of Minnesota goaltender Adam Wilcox then played with it in front of him, faking twice before flipping a backhand over the goalie to force the extra period. Orban immediately flew into the boards in celebration and skated towards the Beaver bench, receiving a high-five from Walsh on his way back.
That goal energized the Beavers in the overtime period, as they were able to get seven shots on Wilcox – BSU’s Cory Ward had the best chance in front of an open net with 12 minutes to go but couldn’t get his stick on a redirect.
Although the Gophers had the definitive offensive edge, Lucia admired the way BSU played.
“It’s a fine line,” he said. A goaltender can be an equalizer. They were opportunistic and we had a lot of good looks. And they’re going to play the same way tomorrow so we have to be ready.”
BSU finished the game with 18 shots on goal; Wilcox made 17 saves for the Gophers. BSU also took the only two penalties in the fast-moving, clean game.
“We’ve just got to try and forget about it,” Serratore said of his team’s mindset for tonight’s game. “We still have a game tomorrow. We’ve got to try and come back and play hockey tomorrow. That’s the way it is. It’s playoff hockey.
“You have to wipe it out of your memory banks and think about playing 60 minutes tomorrow.”