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Gophers Hockey: Shut out on the road, Minnesota heads home with at-large NCAA hopes dashed

The Gophers started slow and finished in neutral. Jake Hildebrand made 28 saves for the shutout on a night where Minnesota's power play went 0-6 on the night

Jake Hildebrand (30) stopped all 28 shots on goal Saturday as Minnesota was shut out against the Spartans.
Jake Hildebrand (30) stopped all 28 shots on goal Saturday as Minnesota was shut out against the Spartans.
Nathan Wells

EAST LANSING, MI- Minnesota captain Justin Kloos said after Saturday's game that a 7-3 Big Ten road record at the start of the year is great.

Otherwise the positives are few and far in between following Michigan State snapping the Gophers' six game road win streak by a 5-0 score. Spartans goalie Jake Hldebrand made 28 saves. Junior forward Villiam Haag scored twice in the second period to get the series split on a night where Minnesota's power play went 0-6 on the night.

"It's execution," said head coach Don Lucia, whose team's power play is 0-18 since February 6th. "We have had a lot of opportunities lately (on the power play) in games. We had plenty tonight. We were a little disrupted not having Leon (Bristedt, out due to suspension), but the bottom line is that you get those opportunities you want to do something with it."

Minnesota (18-15-0, 13-5-0-0 Big Ten) walked down the slanted Munn Arena walkway from the visitor's locker room to the bench with the momentum gained from a two straight late victories. Less than a minute later it was gone.

By the time all was said and done, the path back - in reality a short incline - was metaphorically closer to a mountain climb uphill. The big picture has the Gophers ahead of Michigan in the Big Ten conference race with one series left. Michigan State (10-21-3, 6-11-1-0 Big Ten), however, ended any chance for Minnesota to get an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament.

The Gophers will have to win the Big Ten conference tournament at Xcel Energy Center in two weeks to get the conference's automatic bid.

Looking for a first sweep in a two-game series at Munn Arena since 1978, Minnesota had a chance on the opening shift before turning the puck over on a line change. Mason Appleton was able to do the rest, scoring 46 seconds into the game for his fifth goal of the season.

"We've been doing that lately. It's the fourth game in a row giving up the first goal," said Kloos. "I'd say that was disappointing and foreshadowing the game for the rest of the night."

Minnesota pulled goalie Eric Schierhorn less than four minutes into the second period after Joe Cox and Haag put the deficit further and further out of reach. Fellow freshman Brock Kautz made his college debut, stopping 8 of 10 shots.

"Eric wasn't quite as sharp as he normally is. First shot goes in and then that third one he was on his knees and it went over his shoulder. We thought he'd have that one," said Lucia about Schierhorn, who finished with 10 saves on 13 shots.

Haag added his second goal by getting ahead of a Minnesota player and tipping the puck past Kautz with 3:16 remaining in the second period.

Ferrantino added an extra goal in the closing seconds by doing what the Gophers couldn't: poking home a power play goal. Including a five minute major, Minnesota spent over half the third period with the extra advantage. Hildebrand stopped any threat, if any existed. The Gophers power play spent all the of theirs on the perimeter waiting for something to occur.

"They capitalized on a couple chances on the power play and we didn't. They took their opportunities and made the best of them." said Kautz.

Minnesota still controls its own destiny, a fact both coach and captain brought up Saturday. It's a position the team was in last year. The Gophers host Wisconsin next weekend for the final regular season series , however, the opportunities to take a long-term view are becoming fewer and fewer.

An entire season of work is nearly in the rear-view mirror ready to walk away from one way or another.

"We just have to win games this time of year," said Kloos. "We're just down to it now. We just have to find a way to win no matter what. If we're not feeling good that night or if not, we have to find a way."

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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 --