Eagan coach Mike Taylor admitted his team was in danger of losing itself in the third period.
A Hill-Murray goal led to Wildcats players barking at a teammate who blew an assignment. The unrest turned to euphoria, however, as Cullen Willox scored what proved to be the game-winner in a 4-2 Eagan victory on Tuesday at Aldrich Arena.
No. 4 Eagan (18-2-0) won its 10th consecutive game, beating No. 10 Hill-Murray (12-6-0) with a two-goal rally in the third period.
Hill-Murray forward Jake Guentzel scored his second power-play goal of the game at 3 minutes, 9 seconds of the third period to tie the game 2-2. The rink announcer barely completed his call of the scoring play when Willox responded with a goal just 44 seconds later to put the Wildcats ahead 3-2.
“That gave us a great lift,” Taylor said. “There were a lot of swings in this game.”
Eagan got the better of those swings. From the Wildcats’ perspective, the second period started badly and seemed in danger of getting worse.
Guentzel’s first goal tied the game 1-1 on a power-play goal just 57 seconds into the period. Eagan’s Nick Kuchera later drew a 5 minute major and 10 minute misconduct penalty for checking from behind at 11:53.
“We were very afraid of their power play,” Taylor said. “We knew Guentzel does a great job.”
In danger of falling behind, Eagan instead went ahead 2-1 as Will Merchant forced a turnover at the Wildcats’ blue line. He streaked up the ice and buried a shorthanded breakaway at 13:41. Inspired, Eagan killed the remainder of Kuchera’s penalty.
“It was frustrating to tie it up, get a five minute penalty and give up a goal,” Pioneers coach Bill Lechner said. “Our first unit had good intentions but they were on the ice too long. That hurt and gave them the momentum.”
Trailing 3-2 after Willox’s goal in the third period, Hill-Murray became the aggressors and seemed poised to put a third goal past Eagan goaltender Christian Butler.
Instead, the Wildcats mounted a final rush. Zach Glienke, staying onside, scored the clincher with 56.1 seconds left.
Eagan's Eli May scored the game’s first goal on a power-play at 6:35 of the first period.
-- David La Vaque, Star Tribune staff writer