After giving away 3-0 leads twice last week in a loss and tie at Michigan, there would be no such comebacks against Minnesota this time, despite some anxious moments in the third period. A four goal lead built after the first two periods was enough for Minnesota to hang on for a 4-2 win over Harvard in the opening game of their two-game non-conference series this weekend.
The game got off to a slow start. Despite a long stretch without a whistle, the two teams combined for only a single shot on goal in the game’s first six-and-a-half minutes. Harvard earned the game’s first man advantage at 12:20 of the first frame, but it was negated by a Ty Pelton-Byce high-sticking penalty 56 seconds later.
On the ensuing 4-on-4, Minnesota capitalized when Tommy Novak stole a puck behind the net and fed Brent Gates Jr. for a goal. Rem Pitlick extended the lead late in the first period with a tip-in goal on a beautiful backdoor pass by Casey Mittelstadt.
Harvard came out strong in the second period with their best pressure of the game, but Minnesota once again was the team that capitalized on their chances. Steve Johnson set up defensive partner Tyler Nanne with a beautiful backdoor pass that Nanne just missed, but Johnson was able to collect the rebound off the back boards and tuck it into the net.
Casey Mittelstadt closed out the second period scoring with a highlight reel-worthy snipe into the upper corner of the net to extend the lead to four.
Harvard would mount a valiant comeback attempt in the third period. It started when Jack Badini got Harvard on the board less than a minute into the third period, the first career goal for the rookie Anaheim draft pick.
The Crimson’s leading scorer, Ryan Donato, made things a little less comfortable at 8:50 of the third period when he batted home a rebound goal to cut the lead to two. But despite some quality chances late, including a power play in the final three minutes of the game, Harvard could draw no closer.
Minnesota’s Eric Schierhorn finished with 19 saves in the victory, while Harvard’s Merrick Madsen stopped 22 of 26 shots.
The two teams meet again tomorrow evening to conclude their series.
Notes and Thoughts
-Despite some shaky moments in the third period, this was a solid win for Minnesota. Really, if they weren’t coming off back-to-back disasters against Michigan, I don’t think this game would have felt as close as it did late.
-A lot of the credit for that goes to a strong defensive effort tonight. Minnesota seemed to have really re-committed to that after last week, and it paid off. Harvard had a decent night in terms of possession—it was about 50-50 through two periods—but they couldn’t get anything going in front of Minnesota’s net. Minnesota really protected that key scoring area, and that ultimately seemed to be the difference in the game.
-I really liked some individual pieces on this Harvard team, but it felt like they were missing a couple true snipers that could make a difference offensively. Ryan Donato is obviously very good, but I think they’re missing some scoring on the wings that will probably keep them from being a top-10 team nationally this year.
-Harvard caught a tough break on Minnesota’s second goal. Adam Fox was pretty clearly hooked down with the puck at the Minnesota blue line, leading a Minnesota odd-man rush the other way. I was surprised it wasn’t called a penalty, and it seemed the Harvard bench was as well.
That said, I’m not sure Fox made the best effort to get back into the play after being taken down, and Minnesota didn’t score off the initial rush, but rather the secondary rush off a pretty pass by Casey Mittelstadt.
-He had one goal tonight, but I thought Brent Gates Jr. could have had a couple more. The niche he fills is a bit narrow, but his ability to get shots off in tight spaces in front of the net is really good, and when he’s doing that, he’s really effective.
Shots on goal: MINN: 8-12-7-27 HAR: 7-9-12-28
Even strength shot attempts: MINN: 14-17-9-40 HAR: 12-17-10-39
Prime scoring area attempts: MINN: 8- 11-6-25 HAR: 3-8-8-19
What do the numbers tell us?
Possession was fairly even, but it was Minnesota’s ability to work their way into prime scoring areas, especially early, that made the difference in terms of quality of shots.
13:22 Brent Gates Jr from Tommy Novak 1-0 Minnesota
Novak stole the puck behind the Harvard net and made a short feed to Gates in front of the net. Gates’ quick shot beat Madsen for the goal.
18:17 Rem Pitlick from Casey Mittelstadt 2-0 Minnesota
Mittelstadt had the puck at the top of the right circle and after looking off a defender, fired a no-look pass to Pitlick in front of the net, and Pitlick was able to tip it into the net.
9:51 Steve Johnson from Tyler Nanne and Mike Szmatula 3-0 Minnesota
Johnson made a pretty backdoor pass to Nanne streaking down from the left point. Nanne’s touch went wide, but with Madsen out of position trying to make the first stop, Johnson was able to collect the puck behind the net and tuck it in before Madsen could recover.
16:44 Casey Mittelstadt from Ryan Zuhlsdoft and Sam Rossini 4-0 Minnesota
Mittelstadt skated the puck into the zone and from just above the top of the circle, wired a snap shot over the shoulder of Madsen for the goal.
Casey Mittelstadt drag & snipe on Harvard pic.twitter.com/yyk5vg4sxU— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) November 18, 2017
0:53 Jack Badini from Reilly Walsh and 4-1 Minnesota
Badini had the puck just above the left face-off dot. He took a low wrister that beat Schierhorn to the five hole.
8:50 Ryan Donato from Henry Bowlby and Lewis Zerter-Gossage 4-2 Minnesota
Harvard brought the puck into the zone on a 3-on-2 rush. Bowlby put a shot on net and Schierhorn kicked out a rebound, but Donato was in the right spot to put it back in.