Big Ten Hockey: Minnesota sweeps Michigan at home with a 4-1 win Saturday

Matt Christians

Four different players scored for the Gophers as the team rebounded from an early deficit against Michigan to expand its Big Ten lead.

The start was different for Michigan. The result, while featuring some different players, was the same for the Gophers.

Minnesota overcame an early deficit Saturday at Mariucci Arena by scoring four straight goals to defeat the Wolverines 4-1 in Big Ten conference play. The Gophers, who are 14-1-3 at home this season, completed a much needed sweep against one of the teams challenging it for the inaugural Big Ten title.

Just as importantly, Minnesota (21-4-5, 10-2-2-0 Big Ten) utilized the power of program scoring leader John Mayasich imploring the team Friday by ending the weekend with 9 goals in two games. Two were from the all-freshmen fourth line of Connor Reilly, Gabe Guertler and Vinni Lettieri, but both were important from a line that had been struggling regardless of who had been shuffled into the spot.

"Coach actually brought us into his office this Wednesday, including our line with Ryan - my brother - (A.J.) Michaelson and (Christian) Isackson and really challenged us," said Connor Reilly after the game. "We only had a goal and four assists in 12 games.

"I took it a little personal and said I had to step up and do something. I don't think I scored in 12 games (author's note: Connor hadn't scored in the last 9 he played) so I had to do something or else I was coming out of the lineup."

He did. Guertler, who scored the fifth goal last night, and Lettieri set up Reilly for the go-ahead goal 2:53 in the second period. The redshirt freshman beat Michigan (14-9-3, 6-5-1-1 Big Ten) goaltender Steve Racine with a slap shot that Connor tried to, and did, blow past his glove.

Lettieri, meanwhile, had his first multi-point game with a pair of assists.

"Some of it is just ebb and flow," Gophers head coach Don Lucia added about his fourth line "They have the ability to do that and it just takes some pressure off some other guys when you get those goals."

It was nearly too little, too late for Minnesota. A night after sleeping through the opening twenty minutes, the Wolverines came to play Saturday night. Michigan needed just 1:31 to take a 1-0 lead on the first shot of the game. Junior defenseman Andrew Sinelli beat Gopher goaltender Adam Wilcox (Tampa Bay Lightning) high glove side for his first goal of the season.

The Wolverines nearly made it 2-0 a couple times in the first six minutes, most notably when Justin Selman was unable to tap a pass into a wide open net.

That became a pattern which came back to haunt the Wolverines. Despite continuing to control the puck and play, clogging lanes and not letting second-ranked Minnesota get the easy chances it had Friday, it was unable to get any of the next 28 shots past Wilcox.

Instead, the Gophers ended the period tied at one.

"I thought we played better tonight right from the get go. We had chances, we didn't capitalize on those chances and we gave up goals too easily," Michigan head coach Red Berenson said. "The goals were precious this weekend and we couldn't get another one."

Sam Warning, who had a breakaway stopped last night, changed his luck Saturday by tying the game at 1 with 2:14 remaining in the first. The junior forward scored his first goal in 7 games by tipping a Kyle Rau (Florida Panthers) shot into the net for his team-leading 30th point of the season.

Warning's goal was the type which hadn't been going in for Minnesota during a stretch that saw the team score five in four games and ended up changing Saturday's momentum.

Brady Skjei's shot seconds into the middle frame set the scene. The Gophers entered the period tied and came out strong in the second despite being out-shot 14-9 by taking a two goal lead into the intermission. Connor Reilly and Nate Condon (Colorado Avalanche) scored yet Michigan's best chances by Zach Hyman and Andrew Copp (Winnipeg Jets) hit the post and was saved, respectively.

The latter, which occurred on the power play, may have been the biggest missed chance for Michigan because Condon ended up scoring less than a minute after the penalty ended.

"It put us up there," Condon said. "Anytime you can score a couple goals the momentum shifts in your favor. I was just happy I scored and we got out of here with a victoy."

After Michael Downing (Panthers) was ejected for the second straight night with a contact to the head penalty in the third period, Hudson Fasching (Los Angeles Kings) added a late power play goal to make it 4-1.

With the win, the Gophers maintain a 7 point cushion in the Big Ten standings.

"We knew we had to beat them to get to the top of the conference, but other than that it was a fun game," Condon

Minnesota is off next week while Michigan hosts Penn State at Yost Arena.

--

Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation. You can also follow him on Twitter --

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