MINNEAPOLIS- Don Lucia made several changes to his lineup Saturday night in order to spark offense in his Minnesota team against Michigan State. The Gophers got that. And a goalie duel to boot.
University of Minnesota sophomore goaltender Adam Wilcox (Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick) out-dueled Spartans sophomore Jake Hildebrand to give the Gophers a 1-0 win at Mariucci Arena.
Kyle Rau (Florida Panthers) scored the lone goal.
"I thought Minnesota played really hard tonight," Michigan State (8-13-4, 2-5-3-3 Big Ten) head coach Tom Anastos said. "They were blocking shots, they were backchecking hard and defending hard. Space was hard to come by out there.
"The way they were competing it made space difficult, and even when you thought you had an open look here comes bodies flying."
Lucia made four changes to the top three lines from Friday's 2-2 tie (Michigan State won a shootout to take the extra conference point). The Gophers also got back Ben Marshall (Detroit Red Wings), who served a one-game suspension for accumulating 3 game misconducts.
It paid off. A night after getting caught flat footed, Minnesota (19-2-5, 8-0-2-0 Big Ten) came out with a purpose. Although the Gophers only got a single goal - a potential one by Ryan Reilly was overturned less than 3 minutes into Saturday's game when it was ruled the puck did not cross the line - most of the play in the opening 20 minutes was in the Michigan State zone.
"Look at the shots in the first period and it was 17 to 4 and yet its only 1-0 and it stayed that way," said Lucia. "He's [Hildebrand] a good goaltender, they do a good job of blocking shots. That's the way all four games have been with Michigan State, so that's what we expected today.
Still, only Rau was able to score. The 5'8", 173 lbs junior forward spent the preceding shift pestering Hildebrand with linemate Hudson Fasching (Los Angeles Kings). He then shot the puck up the Spartans goalie's stick and into the back of the net.
More importantly, the goal meant the home team, which had struggled to get bodies and shots in front of the net Friday, did that and had a 1-0 lead 6:44 into the period.
The Gophers played from behind against a defensive-heavy Michigan State squad the night before. Despite Anastos expecting to have to weather the storm, turning the tables helped offense for Minnesota.
Just not on the scoresheet.
Several players were able to beat Spartans defenders and get point-blank shots. Travis Boyd (Washington Capitals) and Marshall each hit the post for Minnesota. Justin Kloos & Taylor Cammarata (New York Islanders) normally play together, however, each had several chances while playing on different lines while both goaltenders made several key saves. That includes the penalty kill, which saw both teams go a combined 0-5.
"He's not giving up too many goals most nights," Anastos said about Hildebrand, who made 37 saves Saturday. "Generally speaking, he has been very reliable and playing with great confidence. He did that all weekend long."
The same can be said for Wilcox after Minnesota's goaltender earned his third shutout of the season with just 19 saves. It was a performance Lucia, whose team extended its unbeaten streak to 14 games, was more than happy with.
"Adam didn't have to make a lot of saves. That's something we talked about, we've given up a lot of shots recently," he said. "We had to play better defensively and take away more time and space."
Despite having four offensive changes result in a single goal for one of the nation's top offenses, Minnesota, which leads the Big Ten by 9 points over Michigan, felt much better about its efforts Saturday. Three points always helps. But as the final buzzer sounded the atmosphere at Mariucci Arena was not one of relief.
The Gophers continue to find ways to win close games, which is a positive Rau sees.
"At the end of the year all of these games are close, so it's good we have some resiliency."
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Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation. You can also follow him on Twitter -- Follow @gopherstate