Minnesota came into tonight's game needing a win to stay in the race for the Big Ten regular season title and keep alive any hopes of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. They got it thanks to an overtime winner from Hudson Fasching that gave the Gophers a 3-2 win over Michigan. The victory earned Minnesota a series split and kept them one point ahead of the Wolverines in the Big Ten standings with just two weekends remaining in the regular season.
The two teams traded goals in the first and second period. Cooper Marody got Michigan on the board first before Vinni Lettieri responded back for the Gophers just under four minutes later. The Gophers took the lead in the second period when Steve Racine misplayed a bouncing dump-in from outside the blue line, but Michigan was able to answer back when their best stretch of the game resulted in Tyler Motte finishing off his nation-leading 29th goal of the season.
The two teams traded quality scoring chances in an up-and-down third period, but neither team could get the go-ahead goal, which set the stage for Fasching's heroics in overtime. In the overtime, Tommy Novak brought the puck into the zone on the right wing and pulled up just inside in the blue line. He hit Fasching with a pass as Fasching streaked into the zone and Fasching unleashed a big one-timer that beat Racine from just inside the blue line.
The win moves Minnesota to 17-14-0 on the season and 16th overall in the Pairwise Rankings. Michigan falls to 20-4-5 with the loss, though still comfortably in position for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament regardless of how they end the regular season. Minnesota holds a one-point lead in the Big Ten with series remaining at Michigan State and vs. Wisconsin. Michigan finishes the regular season with a home-and-home vs. Ohio State and a home series against Penn State.
Notes and Thoughts:
-It took some extra time, but Minnesota got the win they desperately needed. You could feel the urgency in the building--including the PA announcer urging fans to cheer on the Gophers to a win, which is something I can't ever remember happening at Mariucci before--and after a terrific game, Minnesota came away with the win on Hudson Fasching's overtime winner.
-Meanwhile for Michigan, just when it seemed Steve Racine had put away the ghosts of his previous three years, they came back in a big way with an embarrassing second goal, and the game-winner, which was a nice shot, but at sixty feet from the goal, is probably one he needs to stop. Racine has been fantastic since returning from injury over Christmas this year, and he's a big reason why Michigan is safely inside the NCAA Tournament field rather than fighting it out on the bubble again this year. Anybody else and I would just chalk this up as a bad night, but after Michigan's goaltending woes in the previous seasons, tonight's performance was a cause for concern.
-An under-rated moment, but Vinni Lettieri's first period goal has the potential to go down as a season-changing moment for Minnesota. There was a sense of deja vu as Minnesota went down 1-0 for the second straight night on an awful turnover by a defenseman. The atmosphere in the arena was dead quiet after that. After last night's ugly finish, the crowd seemed to be on edge and ready to give up on the Gophers. Lettieri's goal brought them right back into the game, and the crowd was pretty good after that. The arena wasn't full, but they were engaged in the game and it was probably the loudest Mariucci has been all season, culminating with Fasching's overtime winner.
Minnesota hasn't been that bad this season. They're not great, but they came into tonight ranked 18th in the country. To hear their fanbase talk, however, you'd think they were Wisconsin. Somebody tossed their jersey onto the ice and left late in Thursday's loss. An exciting overtime victory against a very good team should bring some positive energy back to Minnesota's fans and to their team.
-Tyler Motte's goal(see video below) was a beauty. The play was extremely similar to a play earlier in the period when Connor flipped a pass over to Motte in the same spot for a streaking one-time slap shot that Schierhorn made a tremendous save on. The second time was the charm, however, as Motte was able to get a little more height on the shot to elevate it over Schierhorn for the goal. The amount of talent on that CCM line is just incredible.
-This was the ninth time this season Michigan won the first game of a series, but was unable to complete the sweep. Other than the usual few defensive miscues--exacerbated by Minnesota's speed and the big, Olympic-sized ice--I don't think they played too poorly. They just ran up against another good team, were on the road, and lost a game that could have gone either way.
-Exciting as this game was, it was easily the second-best game in the state tonight. If you haven't seen Noah Cates overtime winner to send Stillwater to the State Tournament: watch it.
Shots on Goal: MINN: 7-7-12-1-27 MICH: 12-9-3-1-25
Even Strength Shot Attempts: MINN: 12-18-17-1-48-(51.6%) MICH: 13-23-7-2-45-(48.4%)
Prime Scoring Area Attempts: MINN: 4-8-11-0-23 MICH: 6-7-4-1-18
What Do the Numbers Tell Us?
This was a very even goal overall. Michigan held a slight possession edge heading into the third period, but Minnesota controlled play in the final frame. Two soft goals from Steve Racine outweighed one amazing play by the CCM line.
7:18 Cooper Marody from Justin Selman 1-0 Michigan
Selman intercepted a Minnesota pass at the Minnesota blue line as Minnesota was trying to break out of their zone. Selman gave the puck to Marody, who broke in alone on Schierhorn and deked around him for the goal.
Not ideal, Gophers pic.twitter.com/j34CUFRVgH— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) February 27, 2016
11:00 Vinni Lettieri from Jack Sadek 1-1 tie
Lettieri took a slap shot from the point that was deflected off the stick of a first wave shot blocker. Racine was unable to pick up the puck off the deflection and was beaten by the shot.
7:17 Leon Bristedt from Vinni Lettieri and Brent Gates 2-1 Minnesota
Bristedt flipped a harmless-seeming puck on net from the blue line, but the puck took a bad hop in front of Steve Racine and went into the net.
Michigan G Steve Racine gets fooled by the hop, gives up a goal to MN's Leon Bristedt from neutral zone pic.twitter.com/QawcLgTFIZ— The Cauldron (@TheCauldron) February 27, 2016
17:19 Tyler Motte from Kyle Connor and Michael Downing 2-2 tie
Connor came breaking down the left wing and flipped a saucer pass to Motte on the right wing, who one-timed a snap shot over Schierhorn for the goal.
0:57 Hudson Fasching from Connor Reilly and Tommy Novak 3-2 Minnesota
Novak pulled up high in the offensive zone and fed a pass to Fasching who fired a slap shot from just inside the blue line that beat Racine to the blocker side.
Hudson Fasching's OT winner, if you somehow missed it pic.twitter.com/QD4HC9XSRL— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) February 27, 2016