Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 3/11/12
MINNEAPOLIS Eventually, Minnesota's skill overcame Alaska Anchorage's will Saturday night. The fourth-ranked Gophers used a late scoring surge to hold off the feisty, if outmanned, Seawolves, 7-3, in the second and decisive -- game of a first-round WCHA tournament series, in front of an announced crowd of 9,018 at Mariucci Arena. Now, after dispatching UAA, it's on to the WCHA's Final Five for Minnesota, for the first time since 2009. Quarterfinal action in that event begins Thursday, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. "We're looking forward to moving on. We needed this," Gophers head coach Don Lucia said after forward Erik Haula's two third-period goals put Minnesota up for good Saturday. "Very excited," Haula said. "We wanted to end this (series) tonight." Minnesota, now 26-12-1 overall and 14-1 on Saturdays against conference foes, seized control early when right wing Jake Hansen redirected a Ben Marshall blast into the back of the net. But 12th-seeded Alaska Anchorage has a habit of lingering. And the visitors skated with a 5-on-3 advantage briefly in Saturday's second period, spurring a three-goal flurry. The Seawolves got a pair of goals during that stretch from forward Matt Bailey, and UAA owned an eye-opening, 3-1 lead. The Gophers, owners of the WCHA's MacNaughton Cup, played with renewed vigor late in the second period, however. Nick Bjugstad awakened the Mariucci crowd in the period's final minute, as the Blaine, Minn., native hammered home a goal from close range, tying the score at 3-all. "Those two goals in the second period were critical," Lucia said. Minnesota has 17 skaters who are property of NHL organizations. Alaska Anchorage, conversely, is swimming on the shallow end of the talent pool, with few major point producers. Thus, the hosts eventually overwhelmed the Seawolves (9-25-2 overall). Barely five minutes into the final period, Haula scored on a breakaway. Then, seconds later, the Minnesota Wild draftee scored again, knocking home a loose puck in front of the net. That handed the hosts a decisive 5-3 lead they would never relinquish. "It's going well," said Haula, who had four goals on the weekend. "We've got to have our players step up, and this weekend it was me." "They're talented," UAA coach Dave Shyiak said of the Gophers. "They won the regular season for a reason. They're a team we don't match up well (with), speedwise." The Gophers knew they needed to display discipline against the plodding Seawolves. And, on this night, they did just that. Eventually. Minnesota peppered visiting goalie Chris Kamal, to the tune of 38 total shots on goal. And, the hosts pestered the Seawolves into committing eight costly penalties. Thus, the postseason trail rolls on for Minnesota. And, for a team with seven seniors who are still seeking their first career NCAA tournament appearances, that feels pretty good. "It's been a climb; there's been some frustrations," Lucia acknowledged. "But they've all stepped up our whole team."
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