In a battle of top-five teams Friday night, special teams and defense were the difference.
Notre Dame, undefeated at home entering tonight, continued that streak at the expense of the top-ranked Gophers. The Fighting Irish defeated previously unbeaten Minnesota (5-1-1, 0-0-0 Big Ten) 4-1 at Compton Family Ice Arena on national television. Power play goals by Bryan Rust (Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick) 1:58 into the second and Sam Herr, his sixth of the season, in the second period kept them ahead.
Notre Dame's (7-2-0, 1-1-0 Hockey East) defense did the rest by holding the Gophers to just a single goal by Ben Marshall (Detroit Red Wings).
After a scoreless first period that went 19 minutes without a penalty, the second period had plenty of both. Six penalties were called. Rust, taking advantage of a failed clear by Sam Warning, put the Fighting Irish ahead 1-0 just nine seconds into the first one called - a roughing penalty on Minnesota's Tom Serratore.
Marshall tied the game nearly five minutes later with his second goal of the season, but Herr put Notre Dame back on top for good. The sophomore forward beat Adam Wilcox (Tampa Bay Lightning) five-hole.with 3:06 remaining in the second.
Garrett Peterson gave Notre Dame a two-goal lead with his first goal of the season 3:14 in the third period while Jeff Costello (Pittsburgh Penguins) added an empty netter for the final 4-1 score.
Minnesota, playing in South Bend for the first time since 1980, entered the game averaging 4.83 goals/game and showed why early. The Gophers came out strong on the road, outshooting the home team 17-11 in the first period and getting the best chances early against Fighting Irish goaltender Steven Summerhays. Each of the top 3 lines had an opportunity in the first 7 minutes that was stopped by the senior goalie or blocked by the defense.
That pattern continued throughout the game with diminishing returns. Summerhays finished Friday with 32 saves. The Fighting Irish further exploited Minnesota's power play weakness. Despite leading the nation in scoring, the Gophers were 43rd in the country on the power play. Those struggles continued - failing to score Friday on 4 chances - and the visitors never got the chance to set up the offense.
Notre Dame, meanwhile, made the most of its chances with the man advantage. The Fighting Irish went 2 for 5 in addition to a penalty kill that is now 93.6% for the year.
More importantly, the ND offense was the first team all year to make Minnesota's defense work. Each Gopher blue line pairing struggled at times on the smaller ice. The Fighting Irish took advantage of several giveaways to create breakaway chances, including Peterson's goal coming at the expense of a Marshall giveaway in the Notre Dame zone for only the second 3rd period goal given up all year. The Gophers had outscored opponents 9-1 in the third period prior to tonight.
That play summed up Minnesota's night in a nutshell. Too many sloppy plays even-strength and not able to advantage on special teams was too much to overcome against a top team on the road.
Wilcox made 29 saves for the Gophers in defeat.
Notre Dame looks for the sweep tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. ET. The game will be streamed online at NBCSports.com.
-Gabe Guertler made his collegiate debut Friday night. He finished the game with 3 shots, but it was his penalty that led to Herr's game-winning goal.
-Notre Dame wasn't the only team ending an unbeaten streak. Miami defeated St. Cloud State 2-0 on the road Friday. There are no more undefeated teams in college hockey.
-Summerhays now has a .941 save percentage after Friday's game.
-FIghting Irish sophomore Mario Lucia, son of Minnesota head coach Don Lucia, finished Friday's game without a shot and 0 +/-.
-Attendance was announced as a sold-out 5,022.
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Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation and College Hockey News. You can also follow him on Twitter -- Follow @gopherstate