MINNEAPOLIS- I'm not sure where to begin 3 Thoughts other than by saying, "where had that effort been Gophers?"
A month ago on the road in Ann Arbor, Michigan came back from a 1-0 deficit to score 4 unanswered goals in 7 minutes. Sweeping Minnesota that day, the Wolverines took over first place in the Big Ten and perception.
At Mariucci Friday, Minnesota (15-9-3, 6-2-3-0 Big Ten) once again took a 1-0 lead against the Wolverines (16-9-0, 8-3-0-0 Big Ten), but this time it felt different from the moment Leon Bristedt and JT Compher got into it before the puck was dropped.
Instead, it was much different by the time the two got into it again in the third period and Minnesota was leading 6-1. The only boos were the ones which came from penalty calls (and booing Cristoval "Boo" Nieves when he scored although maybe that was a cheer. Maybe they were saying "boo-urns."I don't know.)
Emotions were high. This time, however, Gophers were the ones that had the stretch of goals. Seth Ambroz and Vinni Lettieri scored 53 seconds apart to give Minnesota a 3-0 lead in the third period en route to a 6-2 victory in the first game of a two-game series that has large Big Ten conference implications.
"It kind of feels like we're coming on doesn't it?" said Minnesota captain Kyle Rau, whose team is unbeaten in the last five games.
Rau notched his second career hat trick (3 goals in 3 different situations) while junior defenseman Mike Reilly scored a career-high 4 points (1G-3A).
There have been bits and pieces - the 4 goals in 100 seconds against Wisconsin, last weekend's sweep over Ohio State - over the last couple weekends of the team that is expected to both be and contest with the best in the nation.
"I think it's been there, but when it's a whole team, I mean, Adam's on. When Adam is on his game it just makes it easier for the rest of the team to be on their game," head coach Don Lucia said. "You could see some of this coming. Maybe even the weekend before when we were able to keep shots down."
Friday's performance was a complete one done with 11 forwards for much of the game. (Christian Isackson left the bench in the first period and did not return.) The Gophers did to Michigan what Minnesota-Duluth did to Minnesota at Mariucci in November. It was a performance which depending on how the rest of the season goes is one that could be one that changes the balance of the Big Ten.
And on Friday the 13th too to boot.
Here is Chris Dilks' recap and three more thoughts below.
1. The biggest difference tonight was Minnesota's defense cutting down turnovers and blocking shots
Gopher goaltender Adam Wilcox played well Friday, making 21 saves. At the same time, he wasn't tested much by the Wolverines' top-ranked offense. By the time the first period ended, Minnesota and Michigan had nearly identical shot attempts (16-15).
The difference was in location. All three Gopher goals in the first period came from within five feet of the net and Wolverines goalie Zach Nagelvoort was tested with 2-3 more from that distance. Wilcox, meanwhile, only had to make one save from close range.
The script was flipped from a month ago and continued to stay that way throughout the final two periods. Michigan was held to 23 shots on goal by the Gophers.
Only Michigan Tech (21) had held the Wolverines to fewer.
"We knew they were a fast team and one of the fastest teams probably in the nation. They feed off turnovers and I think that we did well tonight in not turning over the puck too much and letting odd man rushes up," Mike Reilly said. "We got ourselves into trouble a few weeks ago at Yost making those turnovers. So obviously you want to manage the puck well and we were able to do that and not allow too many Grade A chances."
Wilcox's teammates blocked 4 more in that period, ending with a total of 15. Even Rau, who twice scored on turnovers, was down there blocking shots in the last minute with the game well in hand.
"That's the vested interest," Lucia said about his players blocking shots. "That's what we talked about. We can tell them early in the year that you can say you want to win, but doing the things that require to win games are two different things. That scenario of the game you can really tell how vested a guy is. It's no fun to get a puck and we've been doing a much better job of that."
Lucia even got in the action, taking a puck to the
head upper body that bounced off the plexiglass. He's okay.
The Gophers are 11-2-2 when allowing less than 30 shots on goal.
2. If there's a bright spot for Michigan, it's Cristoval Nieves. Otherwise, back to the drawing board.
It's hard to find any bright spots for Michigan and Wolverines head coach Red Berenson was fairly blunt about his team's performance after the first 6-7 minutes, saying "we weren't very good and they were really good." Tossed from both Michigan games a year ago, Michael Downing lasted an entire game at Mariucci (although he did take an elbowing penalty on Hudson Fasching). Nieves scored twice and gave Wilcox his biggest save.
Otherwise it was a game where Michigan, according to Berenson, has to "change our whole team. We have to be a different team otherwise we're going to have the same result."
That begins with goaltending. Nagelvoort was pulled from his start for Steve Racine after giving up his fifth goal on the night with 9:43 remaining in the second period.
Although Berenson would not say Racine, who got the nod in both games at Yost, earned the start tomorrow, he was happier with the junior's performance.
That isn't saying much.
"I don't know what we'll see on the tape, but what I saw on the bench is we're just going to have to be a lot better whether we have to play with more intensity, more physicality. We have to be better with the puck," Berenson said. "We turned the puck over on two of the goals and we have to take advantage of our scoring chances.
"You can't play behind in a rink like this against a team like this when they have a three goal lead."
3. Rau celebrates 150 points in style
A week ago I asked Travis Boyd before the Ohio State series if he had a team, like linemate Seth Ambroz does against Wisconsin, which he looks forward to and performs well. (He didn't although that may change after his four goal performance against the Buckeyes, which earned him the Big Ten First Star.
There's no reason to ask Kyle Rau that question. He is the opposite in that the senior captain has been a model of consistency throughout his four seasons. It shined through tonight when Rau, having the most points by a Gopher since Troy Riddle in 2004, tallied his 150th career point with an old-school give and go with Taylor Cammarata.
"That's Kyle. He usually steps up in the big moment, the big game," Lucia said. "This was an important win for us against a good quality opponent."
He wasn't done. Rau sniped one past Nagelvoort on the power play - not normally his forte. He then in the third period created a turnover, skated down the ice and popped a shot over Racine's shoulder to complete the second hat trick for Minnesota in as many games. (Boyd had one against the Buckeyes.)
Unlike his senior teammate Boyd a week ago, Rau said wasn't thinking about the hat trick.
"It's kind of funny, I don't know the last time we had two (hat tricks) in a row. Probably a cool stat," he said. "It's cool that when we're playing better hockey, that's the kind of stuff that happens.
Thankfully people still have hats.
With an even strength, power play and shorthanded goal, Rau is now with 152 points in his career and 29 on the year.
And two notes for the road:
-The win was Minnesota's 300th victory in Mariucci Arena, which opened in 1993.
-With the victory, Lucia now has 387 in his 16 seasons behind the Gopher bench. He is 3 away from tying Doug Woog for the most all-time in Minnesota program history.
Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation. You can also follow him on Twitter -- Follow @gopherstate