After turning a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 overtime win on Friday night to take the first game of their playoff series against Michigan, Minnesota picked up where they left off on Saturday evening scoring a trio of first period goals on their way to a comfortable [final score] victory over Michigan, clinching their Big Ten playoff quarterfinal series.
Senior Tommy Novak got the scoring started for Minnesota when he raced behind a Michigan defender and slipped a puck past Michigan goalie Strauss Mann 5:25 into the game. From there, Michigan could never recover. Scott Reedy took advantage of a turnover in Michigan’s end of the ice to make it 2-0, and Rem Pitlick would extend the lead to 3-0 with his 20th goal of the season.
Pitlick would strike again late in the second period when a one-timed blast from the right circle beat Mann to make it 4-0.
Michigan could do little more than ruin Mat Robson’s shutout in the third period, getting a goal from Adam Winborg off a scrum in front in the back half of the period.
With the victory, Minnesota advances to next weekend’s one-game semifinal round, where they will face Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. The loss ends Michigan’s season with a 13-16-7 record.
Notes and Thoughts:
-Michigan’s Quinn Hughes was questionable coming into tonight’s game after taking a shot off the ankle on Friday night. X-rays came back negative for a break, but Hughes reportedly had considerable swelling to deal with.
He played a regular shift on Saturday night, but didn’t look anywhere close to his usual, dynamic self. He was a step behind the play all night, giving up one goal, and very lucky he didn’t give up two or three more on plays he was clearly beaten on.
Of course, the problem for Michigan, as it was when some people suggested Hughes move to forward after a disastrous game at Madison Square Garden earlier this year, is who else do you play? Hughes eats a lot of minutes for Michigan and there weren’t many other appealing options for those ~25 minutes a game he plays.
-The big issue for Michigan tonight was an inability to sustain anything offensively. They got some perimeter shots, but everything was one-and-done. One of the big things they lacked offensively was somebody that can go win the puck back in loose puck situations. The exception was the Raabe-Moyle-Van Wyhe line, which I thought was their most effective line all night. It’s going to take some time, but if Michigan can get more lines that play like that playing behind a first line with the type of talent a Michigan can draw, they’ll be a really tough team.
-Rem Pitlick’s two goals in this game were his 20th and 21st goals of the season, which puts him in some pretty rare territory. both nationally—he was the sixth player in the country to reach 20 goals—and in a historical context. The last player for Minnesota with that many goals in a season was Nick Bjugstad, who scored 21 in the 2012-2013 season. Pitlick has quietly turned into one of the most dangerous scoring threats in the country. I wouldn’t call him a fast skater, but he’s quick and can get off a really heavy shot quickly with a great release.
-Probably the biggest story of the weekend was Minnesota not being able to sell 2000 tickets to either game this weekend. Saturday’s announced attendance was 1911. There are various pictures floating around Twitter where you can decide how close actual attendance was to reported(it seemed pretty close, imo). I’m sure other people will rehash how it ended up there. I’ve made my position pretty clear over the past six years.
But for tonight, there was a very cool moment at the conclusion of the game. After the win, Minnesota circled around center ice for their usual stick salute. The stick salute looked a little half-hearted in front of a mostly empty arena. But as the team skated off the ice, Bob Motzko stopped them at the bench door and directed them to go salute the small student section that had come to watch the game.
There’s obviously a lot of work that needs to be done to rebuild the fanbase at Minnesota. But it’s tough to blame Minnesota for anything they’ve done, and they’re working hard to fix it.