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BOSTON – For years, the knock on Mike Hastings and his Minnesota State Mankato men's hockey team was that the Mavericks couldn't win in the NCAA tournament. Five times under Hastings they made the field only to come home empty-handed.

That changed last year, when Minnesota State advanced to its first Frozen Four, beating the Gophers in a regional final to get there. And on Thursday night, the Mavericks took it a huge step further, defeating Minnesota 5-1 in the Frozen Four semifinals at TD Garden.

For the first time as a Division I program, the Mavericks will play for the national championship. They'll face Denver, a 3-2 overtime winner over Michigan, in Saturday's 7 p.m. (Central) title game.

"We've just got a lot of very passionate people that have supported us for a while,'' Hastings said. "It was great to be able to pay them back a little bit tonight.''

Benton Maass and Reggie Lutz scored second-period goals, Ondrej Pavel, David Silye and Brendan Furry scored in the third, and Dryden McKay made 16 saves as the Mavericks (38-5) won in their 18th consecutive game. Minnesota State's relentless forecheck made things difficult for Minnesota all night in front of a sold-out crowd of 17,850.

The Gophers (26-13) got a first-period goal from freshman Matthew Knies. Goalie Justen Close stopped 26 shots for the Gophers, who were in the Frozen Four for the first time since 2014. Coach Bob Motzko's team finishes the season with the accomplishments of a Big Ten regular-season title and the Worcester (Mass.) Regional crown, but the Gophers fell short of the goal of a national championship.

Hastings said Wednesday that whichever team got to its style of game quicker would have an advantage. That was the Mavericks, who did a strong job of contesting Gophers passes and didn't allow a shot on goal through nearly nine minutes to start the game.

That first Minnesota shot on goal turned out to be a big one, when Knies scored on a tic-tac-toe play on a two-on-none breakaway with Bryce Brodzinski, who grabbed the puck after a Mavericks neutral zone turnover. Three quick passes later, Knies hammered it into an open net at 8:52 after McKay committed to Brodzinski.

The goal was Knies' fifth in the past four games and 15th of his freshman season.

"Being able to crack them early kept us in it for a while,'' Brodzinski said.

The deficit didn't deter Minnesota State, which continued to pressure, testing Close. The Gophers goalie came up huge at 16:06 when he robbed Mavericks right winger Josh Groll alone in the slot. The Mavericks outshot the Gophers 11-4 in the opening 20 minutes and controlled play territorially.

"I thought we played a good first period even though we were down,'' Hastings said. "… The guys stuck with it and were rewarded for it."

The Gophers picked up the offensive pace early in the second period, getting pucks deep in the Mavericks' zone and putting three shots on McKay in the first 5:28.

The Mavericks kept pushing for the equalizer, though, and defenseman Benton Maass tied it 1-1 with a wraparound goal that went in on the far side of the net. The goal was his third of the season and the first since Nov. 13 for the transfer from New Hampshire.

Minnesota took an icing at 12:47 of the second, and the Mavericks hemmed the Gophers in their zone. After Close made two quick saves, Lutz corralled the puck behind the net and beat Close on a wraparound for a 2-1 lead at 13:21.

"We're a mature team,'' McKay said, "and it doesn't seem to matter to us if we're up or down.''

Last year, Minnesota State limited the Gophers to nine shots through the first two periods in its 4-0 victory in the Loveland (Colo.) Regional final. This time, the Gophers had 11 shots through 40 minutes.

The Mavericks increased their lead to 3-1 1:57 into the third period when Pavel tipped Jack McNeely's shot from the point with Close screened.

"It was not a fun game for us to chase,'' Motzko said.

From there, the Mavericks kept up their forechecking pressure and rode the goaltending of McKay, one of three Hobey Baker Hat Trick finalists for the award that will be announced Friday.

Silye scored with 6:43 left to stretch the lead to 4-1, as the Mavericks fans celebrated with "Ole-Ole-Ole'' chants.

Needing three goals, the Gophers pulled Close for an extra attacker with 3:51 left. Brendan Furry added an empty-net goal with 1:09 to play.

Afterward, Motzko praised his team for what it accomplished.

"They raised the bar,'' he said. "Because of their work ethic and the way they competed — you can't fool Gopher fans, and they got behind them and were a team they liked to cheer for. But tonight stings because they were a special group."