ST. PAUL, Minn. – At four games under the .500 mark just a week ago, Colorado College's season was all but over. But the Tigers haven't quit playing.
Rylan Schwartz and Charlie Taft scored in the second period for Colorado College in a 2-0 victory over Minnesota on Friday night in the WCHA semifinals, sending the Tigers to an improbable spot in the championship against Wisconsin.
"We're a team game. We're sticking together. We're not panicking," said Schwartz, who has four goals and four assists in five postseason games.
Joe Howe made 35 saves for Colorado College (18-18-5), seeded eighth out of 12 in the league playoffs. The Tigers won the last two games of the first-round best-of-three series against rival Denver and knocked off North Dakota in overtime in the quarterfinals Thursday night.
Then they took down the Gophers (26-8-5), the second-ranked team in both major national polls playing in front of a partisan crowd less than eight miles from their home ice. This was Minnesota's last WCHA game. The Gophers will be in the Big Ten next season.
"We've been winning a lot of different ways lately, and that's what you have to do in the playoffs," Howe said.
Howe and Taft are both from the Twin Cities suburbs, so this sort of felt like home. But they're focused on finishing this remarkable run and snagging one of the five automatic bids for the 16-team NCAA tournament. Beating Wisconsin is the only chance the Tigers have of getting in.
"There was no extra incentive," Howe said about facing the Gophers. "They were just another team, and they were in our way."
Not so much around the net, though. They settled for too many shots from the perimeter and limped through a five-minute extra-skater situation in the second period with only one shot on goal.
"It was embarrassing how bad our power play was tonight," right wing Zach Budish said.
The North Dakota fans in the building began chanting "Overrated! Overrated!" to taunt the Gophers in the final minute. Minnesota's spot in the NCAA tournament is secure, but the Gophers would rather start with more momentum than this.
"I'm disappointed, to be quite frank with you, that we're not playing tomorrow night," coach Don Lucia said. "Any time you have a chance to play for a championship, you want to play for a championship, especially the last one."
This is the last one for the Tigers, too, one they've never won. They'll move to the upstart National Collegiate Hockey Conference next season, and this is not a bad way to go out.
"We don't have to win three games. We have to win one game, three times," Howe said, referring to the team's approach to this final appearance in the Final Five. "And that's the mentality we've taken."
Howe, a senior, is a major reason why they're still alive.
"Not only did Joe stop pucks. He looked very, very good stopping the pucks," coach Scott Owens said. "He looked under control and calm."