Michigan State's victory on Saturday afternoon over Michigan left Minnesota in control of their own destiny heading into their regular season finale against Penn State. A win would secure a second consecutive regular season championship in the newly-formed Big Ten Hockey Conference. That opportunity was all the Gophers needed. They dominated the Nittany Lions for a 6-2 victory, and after a tumultuous season, Minnesota ended the Big Ten regular season right where everyone projected them to finish: in first place.
It was a former Gopher that struck first, as Minnesota transfer Max Gardiner tipped in a shot by teammate Zach Saar to put Penn State up 1-0. But Minnesota had an answer, scoring a pair of rebound goals 20 seconds apart late in the first period to give Minnesota a 2-1 lead heading into the locker room after one period.
After the closely contested first period, Minnesota dominated the second frame scoring four times to Penn State's once, including a pair of goals from Kyle Rau, playing his last game as a senior at Minnesota. With a comfortable 6-2 lead, Minnesota limited Penn State scoring opportunities to secure the victory.
With the win, Minnesota finishes their regular season with a 21-12-3 record and finishes two points ahead of Michigan State to win the Big Ten title. The loss drops Penn State to 18-14-4 on the season for a fourth place finish in the Big Ten.
Penn State will play Ohio State in a quarterfinal match-up next Thursday at the Big Ten Tournament, while Minnesota earns a quarterfinal bye and will await the winner of the Penn State/Ohio State match-up.
Shots on Goal: MINN: 8- 16-10-34 PSU: 10-11-10-31
Even strength shot attempts: MINN: 15-28-12 PSU: 16-18-17
Prime scoring area attempts: MINN: 9- 15-11 PSU: 7-5-7
What do the numbers tell us?
Penn State masked a possesion advantage by the Gophers by virtue of firing a lot of shots from anywhere, while Minnesota was more particular about their shots. But Minnesota completely dominated the second period no matter how you look at it and put this game out of reach.
-Not many people would have guessed it when the team hit rock bottom this January, but Minnesota found a way to persevere--in a conference where no other team finished in the top 20 nationally in RPI, it should be noted--and win a conference title. There was little doubt that when Minnesota was at their best, they were the best team in the Big Ten this year.
-That makes four straight regular season conference titles for Minnesota's outgoing senior class. And that senior class played a big role in tonight's win. On their Senior Night, Minnesota got five points total from four different members of their senior class, led by Kyle Rau's two goals. Rau's two goals gives him 162 career points, tying him with Miami's Austin Czarnik and Minnesota State's Matt Leitner for most among active players.
-Penn State played a very good first period for the first seventeen and a half minutes of the game. Minnesota had the slight edge in chances, but overall, it was a very quiet period that kept the Minnesota crowd out of the game. But two goals in 20 seconds got the home crowd roaring--attendance was nowhere near listed, but felt louder than usual tonight--and Minnesota never looked back. They dominated the second period and put the game completely out of reach.
-Don Lucia said there was no scoreboard watching for the result of the Michigan State/Michigan game, which ended before this game started(It wasn't announced in the arena at all until in the third period when the game was mostly decided). Lucia said they ignored that game because regardless, Minnesota needed the win tonight to increase their odds of making the NCAA tournament. The Gophers now likely just need to win their semifinal game next weekend to secure a bid, whereas they needed to win the conference tournament if they had lost tonight.
15:16 Max Gardiner from Zach Saar and Nate Jensen 1-0 Penn State
Saar wound up for a spinning slap shot at the right circle with Gardiner going hard to the net. Saar's slap shot hit Gardiner's stick at about waist level and deflected into the goal.
17:49 Seth Ambroz from Travis Boyd and Mike Reilly 1-1 tie
Reilly brought the puck into the zone on the left wing and stopped just inside the blue line. He fed a drop pass to Boyd who hit the zone with speed. Boyd skated around a Penn State defender and shot a backhander that beat Musico, but hit off the post. Ambroz was on the back side of the net to clean up the rebound for the goal, however.
18:09 Hudson Fasching from Jake Bischoff 2-1 Minnesota
Bischoff took a high shot from the left point that Musico stopped, but didn't control the rebound on. Fasching was standing at the left side of the net and batted the rebound into the net as it dropped to the ground.
4:32 Kyle Rau from Hudson Fasching and Mike Reilly 3-1 Minnesota
Fasching carried the puck from the left wall to the middle of the ice at the top of the slot and fired a waist-high wrist shot that Rau tipped past Musico.
6:30 James Robinson from Connor Varley and David Glen 3-2 Minnesota
On a scrum in front of the Minnesota net, Robinson poked at a loose puck that just trickled over the Minnesota goal line.
7:33 Ryan Collins from Christian Isackson and Hudson Fasching 4-2 Minnesota
Collins took a pass at the right point and fired a slap shot. Jack Glover set a screen in front of the net and Penn State goalie PJ Musico never saw it as it went into the net.
13:44 Kyle Rau from Hudson Fasching and Leon Bristedt 5-2 Minnesota
Fasching won a puck behind the Penn State net and fed a pass out to Rau who was cutting across the front of the net. He one-timed the puck into the goal.
16:09 Hudson Fasching from Leon Bristedt 6-2 Minnesota
Fasching skated down the right wing and fired a wrist shot to the far post that snuck over the pad of Musico.