HAMDEN, Conn. - Two-time defending champion Minnesota will get a chance for a three-peat Sunday. The Gophers had to do it the hard way. The Gophers had to come from behind and beat No. 3 Wisconsin, 5-3, to advance to the 2014 NCAA Women's Frozen Four national championship game at Quinnipiac's High Point Solutions Arena at the TD Sports Center Friday evening.
Minnesota (38-1-1) scored three unanswered goals in the third period, rallying from 3-2 and 1-0 deficits, and sophomore Amanda Leveille tied her career-best with 34 saves as Wisconsin (28-8-2) outshot the Gophers, 37-28, for the game.
Sophomore Hannah Brandt and senior Kelly Terry each had one goal and one assist, and freshman Dani Cameranesi recorded two assists to lead the Gophers.
Minnesota will face Clarkson, which beat Mercyhurst 5-1 in Friday's other semifinal, in the 2014 national championship game at 2 p.m. CT Sunday. The Gophers are the two-time WCHA champion and will try to win the league's 15th straight national championship. Minnesota has won four of those crowns.
Minnesota is 25-0-1 since having its record-breaking 62-game winning streak snapped against North Dakota on Nov. 17. The Gophers have also won 11 straight games against Wisconsin, dating to 2011, but three of those this year were one-goal victories.
"That was unbelievable," Minnesota Coach Brad Frost said. "I hope everybody enjoyed the game. If you didn't, I'm not sure what needs to happen for people to enjoy it."
"It was a game with momentum swings" UW head coach Mark Johnson said. "We saw them both ways. I thought both teams battled hard. I thought we played a solid game. But it was going to come down to who was going to make a play."
The Gophers trailed 1-0 after one period and 3-2 after two periods but rallied in the third period with three goals to advance to their third-straight national championship game.
With a 16-7 advantage in shots on goal in the first period, Wisconsin took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission. Brittany Ammerman scored her 23rd goal of the season, at four-on-four ,with 1:22 remaining in the period, and Leveille kept the game tight with 15 saves in the opening 20 minutes.
"I was leaving the ice thinking we should have been up 3-0," Johnson said. "We had good opportunities and came out with good energy. We had them on their heels a bit, but we needed to capitalize. They are a high scoring and deep team. It was nice that Brit scored a goal and that we won the first period."
Minnesota scored twice in a 1:41 span early in the second period to give the Gophers a 2-1 lead on goals by Terry and sophomore Maryanne Menefee . Terry put the Gophers on the board when she pounced on the rebound of a shot by linemate Cameranesi just 33 seconds into the period, and Menefee buried a feed from Terry on the back door at 2:12.
The Badgers countered with a pair of their own goals to close out the period with a 3-2 lead. Katy Josephs tallied her 12th of the year, while Karley Sylvester earned her ninth goal of the season with 31 seconds remaining to give Wisconsin a 3-2 advantage heading into the second intermission. "It was not looking good there through a couple periods," Frost said. "I was frustrated with our players and the way they were playing. And they were frustrated, but as we talked about it between periods, the last thing you want to do is look back on this game and have some regrets."
The Gophers rallied in the third period, beginning with a power-play goal by Brandt to tie the game at 3-3 at the 5:37 mark of the third period. Junior Rachael Bona scored the eventual game-winner on a highlight reel goal assisted by senior Sarah Davis at 8:06 before senior Baylee Gillanders ripped a blistering shot past UW goaltender Alex Rigsby with 2:28 remaining to seal the Gophers' national semifinal victory.
"We flipped a switch, and once we got that tying goal, everything started to happen for us," Frost said. "We found another gear that we didn't have in the first two periods."
Rigsby ended her final game with 23 saves, and leaves Wisconsin as the school leader in wins (100) and saves (3,103).