BOSTON — You can call them the comeback kids. And after Saturday night, you can call them national champions.
Denver fell behind 1-0 for the third time in this year’s NCAA tournament but unloaded for five unanswered goals in the game’s final 20 minutes to capture a record-tying ninth national championship with a 5-1 victory over Minnesota State at a sold-out TD Garden.
While the offensive explosion was impressive, just being in a one-goal game was a story in itself.
Minnesota State had numerous opportunities to extend the lead, most notably a breakaway late in the second and a 2-on-1 at 2:46 of the third, but goaltender Magnus Chrona (27 saves) did everything to keep it a one-goal game.
“They were outplaying us but at the end of the day they were only up 1-0,” said fifth-year senior Ryan Barrow about his goaltender’s ability to keep the Pioneers close. “One shot changes the entire outlook on the game.”
That one shot came exactly two minutes after Chrona robbed Jake Livingstone. At the other end, Barrow was in the perfect position to catch a rebound and quickly poke it between the legs of Dryden McKay (15 saves) at 4:46 to knot the score at 1-1.
Forty seconds later, Denver drew a tripping penalty and, although the power play didn’t score for Denver, Mike Benning one-timed a shot from the left faceoff dot just seconds after the man advantage ended.
The game had suddenly turned on a dime.
“I’m just kind of overwhelmed with everything,” Benning, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, said of the game-winning goal. “I saw a shot and took it. Went with my gut, and now we’re here. So I’m happy.”
Now sporting a lead, Denver kept its foot on the gas pedal. At 8:33, it appeared Cole Guttman had given the Pioneers a two-goal cushion but the goal was disallowed because Bobby Brink had made contact with McKay in the crease.
At 13:34, Carter Mazur and Massimo Rizzo skated in on a 2-on-1. Once Mazur’s pass made it across the seam, Rizzo had the empty net to bury it.
Brett Stapley’s and Cameron Wright’s empty-net goals with 2:32 and 2:00 remaining, respectively, capped off the wild, five-goal third and gave the Denver faithful plenty to celebrate.
The five goals were the most scored in a third period of a championship game since Colorado College scored seven on Michigan in 1957.
Before the third-period explosion, Denver looked near dead, mustering just eight shots through the first 40 minutes.
Minnesota State took a 1-0 lead in the first on the power play.
Julian Napravnik fired a low shot from the left side that bounced to Lucas Sowder in the high slot. Instead of firing a shot, Sowder feathered a pass to Morton, who one-timed the puck glove side past Chrona.
Denver had a power play of its own at 15:28 when Nathan Smith was sent off for roughing, but the Pioneers couldn’t convert.
In the second, both teams had their chances as the ice opened up a little more and the game got more physical, but neither team — in particular Minnesota State as it looked for a potential backbreaking goal — could beat the opposing goaltenders.
“We had good opportunities,” said Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings. “We couldn’t extend the lead. We scored a power-play goal. They get one. Their guys made a few more saves than we wanted him to. When they got the second one I thought we started to chase it instead of settling down a little bit and understanding there was still time on the clock, that we could go and make a difference.”
The loss for Minnesota State snapped an 18-game winning streak and was just the second time all season that the Mavericks lost a game when leading after two periods.
Nine national titles ties the Pioneers with Michigan, the team Denver eliminated in Thursday’s semifinal, for the most all time.
“Words don’t describe the feelings,” said Denver coach David Carle. “I’m so proud of our team and what they were able to accomplish this year. It means the world to our staff and our players to be a part of this journey with these guys. It was just so much fun.”