MINNEAPOLIS- Shorthanded no more, the goals kept coming Friday for Hudson Fasching and the University of Minnesota.
Fasching scored a pair of goals for the second consecutive game. His offense, which this time came at even strength after two shorthanded goals in a victory against Penn State, led the way for the Gophers as Minnesota scored the first four in a 5-2 victory over Michigan State at Mariucci Arena. The victory extends the Spartans' woes with last season's Big Ten regular season runner-up having won only one of its last fifteen games.
"It definitely feels good to keep scoring," he said. "The culmination of some things coming together for us as a team, I think we're playing really hard, especially on the penalty kill."
Minnesota (10-10-0, 5-2-0-0 Big Ten) reached .500 for the third time this season. The Gophers penalty kill went 5 for 5 Friday. The team blocked several shots, turning adjustments made over the past six weeks and learned notes into more natural reactions, Fasching said.
"Now we've been practicing a lot and I think it's a little more natural," added Jake Bischoff. "The stuff that we have been doing is definitely working and we're being more aggressive, I think, and I think that's helping. When we see them fumble the puck we're in there right away and I think that keeps working for us anyways."
Suiting up for his 100th career appearance, captain Justin Kloos wasted no time Friday night to comment on the game against the Spartans (5-16-2, 1-6-0-0 Big Ten). The junior took a pass from Connor Reilly in the slot and needed 21 seconds to score his sixth goal of the season.
Fasching made it 2-0 Minnesota early in the second period when he wrapped the puck past the outstretched pads of Jake Hildebrand, who made 25 saves. Bischoff added his fourth goal of the season three minutes later.
"We struggled early in the season and maybe we get those goals back that we should have had there, said Leon Bristedt, who had a career-high 3 assists as his team has scored 12 goals in the last two games.
Fasching's line has set the tone for much of the season and Friday was no exception with all three players (Bristedt and Tommy Novak being the others) getting multiple points on the night. His head coach agreed, saying Hudson is "playing real good hockey for us right now. That line has been good."
Fasching, whose two goals came from a combined five feet, nearly added a third in front of the net to complete the hat trick, however, the junior was denied on a first period chance by Hildebrand where he was left all alone.
"It does really sting being that close. You're just inching," he said.
As the season continues to inch along, the process seems to be taking shape while not yet showing the signs of a win streak that would put it in shape for a postseason run. The Gopher junior class is slowly picking up where last year's senior class, which led the nation in goals, left off in the second half with nearly 55% of the team's goals this season being scored by juniors. Four were tonight.
It is not just juniors, though. Minnesota's all-freshman fourth line responded to Michigan State forward Connor Wood's first collegiate goal by having Ryan Norman contributing a goal on the ensuing shift for the second straight game.
"They're growing," Gophers head coach Don Lucia said of the fourth line of Norman, Darian Romanko and Jack Ramsey. "We made a little switch during the course of the game and put Romanko at center. He seemed to be going better than Ryan was early, but it was good to see Ryan respond in the third. I thought Ramsey had good energy playing with speed. He was physical, that's the way he has to play. With those guys it is all about getting the puck in deep and grinding and they did that tonight."
Villiam Haag added a late goal for Michigan State that beat Eric Schierhorn, who made 17 saves Friday.
Minnesota's victory, combined with a game-tying goal by Ohio State's Anthony Greco with 6.9 seconds remaining and subsequent conference shootout win over Michigan, means that the Gophers are tied with the Wolverines at the top of the Big Ten standings. Each team has 15 points. (Third place Penn State trails by three points with 2 games in hand on both teams.)
Minnesota and Michigan State complete the two game series Saturday night at Mariucci Arena at 7:30 p.m. CT (8:30 p.m. ET). The game will be broadcast on Big Ten Network.
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 -- Follow @gopherstate