For the first two periods of the NCAA men’s hockey championship game Saturday night at TD Garden, Denver struggled to generate much offense. The Pioneers landed just eight shots on goal, with Hobey Baker winner Dryden McKay (15 saves) turning each one back as Minnesota State led, 1-0, heading into the third.
But the Pioneers erupted for five goals to take a 5-1 win and the program’s ninth national hockey championship, which ties Michigan for the most in Division 1.
“I’m so proud of the team and what they were able to accomplish this year.” said Denver coach David Carle. “To be a part of this journey with these guys was so much fun. They committed to each other every day to get better. It was not easy, but they continued to stick with it.”
The Mavericks opened the third period looking to extend a 1-0 lead, keeping the pressure on Denver goalie Magnus Chrona (27 saves). But the Pioneers would eventually be able to break through, pulling even when Ryan Barrow put a rebound of a Mike Benning shot past McKay at 4:46 of the third.
The Pioneers then went on a power play after Minnesota State’s Sam Morton was whistled for a trip at 5:26.
Denver (31-9-1) kept the puck in the Minnesota State zone as the penalty expired, and scored just seconds later when Shai Buium found Benning for a one-timer for the 2-1 lead at 7:33.
“I thought we got off to a good start and gave it a good 40 minutes, but once we gave up that first one we started leaking oil a little bit, and couldn’t stop the bleeding,” said Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings, whose team was searching for its first national title.
The Pioneers would add an insurance goal at 13:34 when Carter Mazur found Massimo Rizzo on a two-on-one breakaway, sending the puck across to Rizzo for a one-timer past McKay and a 3-1 lead.
Desperate to generate some offense, Minnesota State pulled McKay with more than three minutes left, but the Pioneers would respond with a pair of empty net goals 38 seconds apart from Brett Stapley and Cameron Wright, prompting the Mavericks to send McKay back into the net for the final two minutes.
Minnesota State (38-6-0) looked to be in control through the first two periods, holding an 18-8 advantage in shots.
The Mavericks took the early lead on Sam Morton’s power-play goal at 13:59 of the first period. The score was set up when Jake Livingstone walked the puck across the middle off a face off and sent a shot on net. Chrona made the initial save, but the rebound kicked back to Lucas Sowder, who dished it to Morton for a one-timer that beat Chrona five-hole.
After killing off a penalty, the Mavericks had several chances to expand the lead late in the period, as Sowder sent the puck from behind the net to Reggie Lutz, whose one-timer was stuffed by Chrona. The period ended with the Mavericks holding a 1-0 lead and an 8-3 advantage in shots.
After Denver was held to just one shot in the first 12 minutes, the offense picked up for both teams in the second period, but neither was able to capitalize. The Pioneers had their best chance at the equalizer when Wright had an open net, but missed wide right.
Minutes later, Sowder nearly put the Mavericks up 2-0, carrying the puck down the left side off a turnover before pulling up for a slap shot, but the pick ricocheted off the crossbar and into the stands at 15:33.
Minnesota State’s fourth line also had a chance, with Ondrej Pavel’s centering a pass to Josh Groll with an open net, but the puck hit Groll’s skate and bounced harmlessly to the corner at 16:49.
Those missed opportunities would prove costly, allowing Denver to stay in the game and set up its third period third-period heroics.
Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney.