Quick strikes in third help Gophers advance
DENVER -- Minnesota goalie Kellen Briggs won't even try to lie -- he was definitely nervous when the Gophers fell behind by two goals in the third period.
But Minnesota rallied from the deficit and Mike Carman scored the game-winner with 4:34 remaining in the Gophers' 4-3 victory over the Air Force Falcons on Saturday night in the semifinals of the NCAA West Regional.
The Gophers (31-9-3) advanced to the regional championship Sunday against North Dakota, which beat Michigan 8-5 in the late game.
"You saw some desperation hockey," Briggs said. "The last eight minutes we had to leave it all on the ice. We didn't want to leave this game thinking we could have done some things better."
Air Force, making its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament, was looking to become the second straight Atlantic Hockey Association opponent to upend the Gophers in the first round. Holy Cross beat the Gophers 4-3 in overtime last season.
Air Force (19-16-5) led 3-1 at the 5:32 mark of the third period after a goal by Brett Nylander.
But Ryan Stoa, Jim O'Brien and Carman helped the Gophers storm back as the three scored goals 3:36 apart.
"When we got down by two goals, it was time for us to step it up," O'Brien said.
Briggs had 28 saves to win his 84th career game. He's now the all-time leader for wins in school and Western Collegiate Hockey Association history, passing former Gophers goalie Adam Hauser (1998-2002).
Andrew Volkening stopped 33 shots for the Falcons, which became the first service academy to compete in the NCAA Tournament.
Carman's game-winning goal came after a shot deflected off the boards and ricocheted to him in front of the net, where he slipped it past Volkening for his eighth goal of the season.
"I lost the puck in the lights," Volkening said. "I looked around for it and he reached in and poked it in."
The Falcons took advantage of a 5-on-3 opportunity late in the second period as Andrew Ramsey tipped in a rebound with 37 seconds left. Ramsey's 23rd goal of the season gave Air Force a 2-1 lead.
The Gophers tied up the game at one apiece midway through the second period when they caught Air Force in the middle of a line change. Jay Barriball sneaked a shot between Volkening's legs for his 19th goal this season.
Air Force's Jeff Hajner gave the Falcons a 1-0 lead in the first period when he sneaked in a shot between Briggs' pads and the left post. It was Hajner's 13th goal of the season.
The Falcons qualified for their first NCAA regional by winning the AHA's conference tournament.
Minnesota entered the game having won the regular-season crown and tournament championship in the WCHA.
This was the first meeting between the two schools.
"It took us awhile to get into the game," Briggs said. "We finally realized we had to work that hard to win."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press