GRAND FORKS, N.D. - Perhaps befitting a rivalry as storied as Minnesota-North Dakota, their WCHA playoff opening round series will require a third and final game to determine who advances to the Red Baron WCHA Final Five.
Trailing 2-1 in the third period, the Gophers scored three unanswered goals in the final 7:50 of regulation to tie the series at one game apiece and keep their season alive for another night. It was fifth-ranked UND's first loss in nine games.
Freshman defenseman Seth Helgeson's point shot through traffic with 7:02 remaining, his first career goal, stood as the game-winner.
The Gophers had tied it only 48 seconds earlier when Jacob Cepis beat a screened Eidsness through the legs from the right faceoff dot. That power-play goal was set up after Cepis had drawn a tripping penalty on Sioux defenseman Ben Blood (So., Plymouth, Minn.).
Minnesota sophomore forward Jordan Schroeder iced the game with an empty net goal with half a second showing on the clock.
"You have to give them credit," said Sioux freshman forward Corban Knight (High River, Alberta). "After Frattin's goal, they gave a pretty good push and scored a couple of ones that seemed to have eyes."
The Gophers were anchored all night long by the steady play of junior goalie Alex Kangas, who stopped 41 shots one night after being pulled after two periods.
Kangas and a power-play that went 3-for-4 proved to be the winning formula for Minnesota, one night after suffering their worst WCHA first round loss in program history.
Mike Hoeffel opened the scoring with a power-play tally at 17:20 of the first period, converting a Cepis pass to send the Gophers into the locker room leading 1-0 despite being outshot 14-3 in the period.
The Sioux would find the equalizer 7:03 into the second period off of an offensive zone faceoff. Senior Darcy Zajac (Winnipeg, Manitoba) won the draw cleanly to winger Danny Kristo (Fr., Eden Prairie, Minn.), who fired a shot on goal from the top of the right circle. Kangas denied Kristo's shot, but Knight was on the doorstep to stuff home his first career playoff goal.
That 1-1 score would hold up until midway through the third period. UND's Chris VandeVelde (Sr., Moorhead, Minn.) circled the Minnesota net and located Matt Frattin (Jr., Edmonton, Alberta) in the slot, and Frattin beat Kangas for his third goal of the weekend and eighth of the season.
However, facing the end of its season, Minnesota responded with the three-goal outburst that would force Sunday's game three.
Although the Sioux outshot the Gophers 43-26, UND head coach Dave Hakstol acknowledged room for improvement.
"We have to be a little sharper," said Hakstol. "We have to do a better job, we have to spend a little more time cycling the puck and (have) a little better puck possession. I think we have to do a little better getting traffic to the net.
"It's a fun series and we're looking forward to tomorrow," said VandeVelde.
The puck drops on Sunday at 7:07 p.m. Central.
Notes: Kristo's assist on the Knight goal extended his scoring streak to nine games, the longest by a Sioux player this season. Kristo has six goals and six assists during that stretch ... UND allowed more than two goals for the first time in nine games ... Tickets for Sunday's game will go on sale at noon and will be available in person at the UND box office at Ralph Engelstad Arena only.