After a solid showing last night that saw the Denver Pioneers return to the top spot in the rankings, St. Cloud was out for revenge. But it was Denver that got on the board first. Liam Finlay, Dylan Gambrell, and Evan Janssen combined for some solid puck movement down low. Huskies goaltender Jeff Smith bit on the right and left a gaping corner for Finlay to tap in the puck for a 1-0 lead midway through the first period.
After trading power plays, Denver finally hit the back of the net again with a Matt Marcinew tip-in off a Tariq Hammond wrist shot. The period closed out with the Pioneers holding on to a 2-0 lead over the Huskies.
For the first five minutes of the second period, the Huskies had the Pioneers hemmed in their zone, putting five shots on net to Denver’s zero. In the first real trip into St. Cloud territory, though, Henrik Borgstrom showed why he’s such a coveted player in the league, often compared to Auston Matthews. Pulling the puck from behind him, he moved across the slot, stick handling around two defenders to gain a shooting lane. A top-corner wrist shot gave the Pioneers a 3-0 lead.
— @SaneSports (@SaneSports) February 26, 2017
Shortly thereafter, Hammond was called for high sticking, sending the Huskies on a power play. Mikey Eyssimont, a Colorado native and Los Angeles Kings prospect, made the Pioneers pay for the offense. The forward wristed a laser top shelf, leaving Denver goaltender Tanner Jaillet little chance to stop the puck.
Denver answered with two goals back to back. The first was from a heads-up play by Finlay who picked up Gambrell’s shot that clanked off the post. Smith was out of position after the post shot, so Finlay had a wide open corner to hit. Seconds into the next play, Romig corralled a pass just outside the St. Cloud blueline and skated in all alone for a one-on-one with Smith. Romig didn’t hesitate, and his quick wrister beat Smith cleanly. The Huskie’s coach, Bob Motzko, switched out goaltenders at that point, putting in Zach Driscoll to face the uphill battle with the Pioneers leading 5-1.
To close out the second period, Finlay completed the hat trick with his third goal of the night and sixth of the season. This time, it was a dirty goal, shoving the puck under a sprawling Driscoll. Adam Plant got the assist, and the Pioneers went into second intermission with a 6-1 lead.
The third period started with Evan Cowley replacing Jaillet in net. This isn’t an indication of Jaillet’s play. It’s something Denver head coach Jim Montgomery does often, especially when his team has a substantial lead in the third. Immediately, Cowley had to make some tough saves to maintain the Pioneers lead.
Colin Staub got in on the scoring action at the 10:51 mark of the third on a beautiful breakaway goal. He steamed through center ice, bearing down on Driscoll with speed. After a couple of dekes, he backhanded the puck past the goaltender for Denver’s seventh of the night.
With just under four minutes left in the game, frustration got the best of St. Cloud’s Jack Ahcan. He earned himself a five-minute major penalty and game misconduct for a dangerous hit on Plant. Nick Poehling served the penalty for him. Denver had good puck movement during the man advantage, putting rapid-fire shots on Driscoll and spending much of the remaining time in the game in the offensive zone. However, they were unable to convert before the final buzzer.
St. Cloud did a great job of containing Denver’s shots on net through the first two-thirds of the game. Usually, the team breaks 30 by the start of the third period. However, the Huskies’ goaltending just wasn’t there, and the Pioneers extended their point lead over Minnesota-Duluth in the standings with a 7-2 win.
Next up, the Pioneers head to Baxter Arena for a pair of games against Nebraska-Omaha to close out the regular season. Denver’s playoff bid starts on March 10, 2017.
1. Liam Finlay (3 goals)
2. Dylan Gambrell (2 assists)
3. Henrik Borgstrom (1 goal)