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Big Ten Hockey Recap: Minnesota limits shots and shuts out Penn State 5-0

After being honored pregame, Gopher head coach Don Lucia's team went out and scored three first period goals en route to jumping into a first place tie in the Big Ten with Michigan.

Matt Christians

All seasons are different and the 2014-15 University of Minnesota one, at least according to Minnesota head coach Don Lucia earlier this week, has been one that has meandered in different directions.

By the end of the first period at Mariucci Arena the current was going at full speed with some fireworks coming by the end of the game.

Playing well is good news too for Lucia's team because with one game remaining in the Big Ten regular season things are coming up fast. Defending NCAA runner-up Minnesota, on the NCAA bubble and entering Friday third in the Big Ten standings, has a chance to win its fourth consecutive regular season conference title in a season that had high expectations.

The Gophers scored three times on Penn State in the first period, utilizing speed and the home ice advantage which comes from playing at Mariucci Arena in a 5-0 victory over the Nittany Lions. Honored before the game, Lucia and his team limited a shot-happy Penn State team to a season-low 18 shots.

"We wanted to make sure we practiced hard, but not long. It's about having energy when you are at this time of year. I know how they are supposed to play, but I thought our gaps were pretty good in our own end and that's where it begins," Lucia said. "I thought we were pretty efficient coming out of our own zone off our breakouts.

"When we get going out of our zone in a hurry that's when we're at our best."

Mike Reilly became the first Minnesota defenseman to reach 40 points in a season since Nate Schmidt in 2012-13. Kyle Rau had three points (1G-2A) and Adam Wilcox notched for his fifth shutout of the season.

After Wilcox made an early sprawling save on Penn State redshirt junior Eric Scheid, Minnesota scored three times in a span of 6:09 to set the tone. Rau kicked off the scoring in a familiar position to him. Down low in front of the net on the power play, the senior captain tipped a Mike Reilly slap shot from the blue line off the post and in to give the Gophers a 1-0 lead.

Less than two minutes later Justin Kloos beat Eamon McAdam on a wraparound. Fasching then got his 10th goal of the season by shooting through McAdam's legs and Minnesota had breathing room.

"Our backs are against the wall. We obviously didn't want to put ourselves in that position, but you live with it and I think it's good sometimes that the team has to play like this," Kloos said.

Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky kept with McAdam to begin the second period and the sophomore, making his Mariucci Arena debut, settled down.

On the other end, Wilcox was just as strong in limited action. The Minnesota junior goaltender was happy with his defense once his early save on Scheid set the tone. The Gophers killed three second period penalties and went 5 for 5 in the game on the power play.

"Our big thing was looking back at the window of the net there because their power play, they like to go behind there," said Wilcox, who with his 12th shutout is one away from tying Kellen Briggs for the most shutouts in Minnesota history. "The biggest thing for me was just kind of being ready for everything; especially around the net and behind the net on the power play.

Down 3-0, Gadowsky gambled by pulling McAdam for an extra attacker with 3:40 remaining. Leon Bristedt was rewarded with the empty net goal seconds later.

McAdam went back into the net, but less than thirty seconds later Vinni Lettieri made it a 5-0 game scored his eighth goal of the season on a Michael Brodzinski. He was subsequently elbowed in the face by PSU freshman Scott Conway, who received a game misconduct.

"I don't think it was really good all game," Nittany Lions head coach Guy Gadowsky said about his team's play Friday. "I thought we were playing from behind, we were the slower team, I thought we didn't generate chances. At the end, we were very mentally weak letting our frustration get the better of us."

With the victory, Minnesota is tied for first with Michigan, who defeated Michigan State 5-3 earlier tonight, for first place in the Big Ten with 36 points and eliminated Penn State from being one of the top two seeds. The top two seeds in the Big Ten receive a bye tomorrow.

It would also be the first sweep in four straight attempts after winning the opening game. To continue picking up speed, the Gophers will be treating Saturday's Senior Night like a championship game.

Time will tell which course the river takes.

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Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation mostly covering both the University of Minnesota and Big Ten. You can also follow him on Twitter --