Late in the third period, as his team's three-goal lead was in danger of disappearing, Maple Grove forward Tony Paulson found a small opening and fired.
Teammate Dylan Steman won a faceoff back to Paulson, who snapped off a shot from the blue line that screened Benilde-St. Margaret's goaltender Justin Quale never saw until the puck passed over his left shoulder.
It was Paulson's second goal of the game and fourth this season against the host Red Knights, and it secured a 5-3 victory and the Holiday Hockey Classic tournament championship on Friday at the St. Louis Park Rec Center.
"You never know on those," Paulson said. "I saw the right side open and just put it right in the middle. I was just hoping he wouldn't see it."
The play allowed Maple Grove to withstand a strong Benilde-St. Margaret's comeback in the third period. Trailing 4-1 after two periods, the Red Knights regrouped on goals from TJ Moore and Christian Horn. It seemed the tying goal would be scored in just a matter of time. Instead, the Crimson escaped with its second close victory over the Red Knights in 10 days.
"We had them in their end the entire period," said Horn, whose Red Knights outshot Maple Grove 20-7 in the third period. "I think we showed the kind of team we are. We kept hammering them."
Said Red Knights coach Ken Pauly: "We came out in the third period and pretty much dominated -- after being dominated."
The third-ranked Crimson (11-0-1) started the game taking full advantage of No. 8 Benilde-St. Margaret's (7-3) depleted defensive corps, building a 3-0 lead in the first period and outshooting the Red Knights 20-7.
Sophomores Nate Erickson and Sam Valerius each scored, followed by Paulson's first goal of the game.
Injuries and illness kept three regular Red Knights defensemen, Jonah Johnson, Jack Glover and Ryan Collins, from playing for a second consecutive game.
Maple Grove's victory sets up a tantalizing showdown against No. 1-ranked and fellow unbeaten Duluth East (11-0) on Jan. 4 at the Maple Grove Community Center.
"We're pumped up; the school is excited," Paulson said. "We went up there and beat them last year so I'm sure they want a little revenge."