MINNEAPOLIS – Starting fast on Friday night on home ice for the second straight week had to feel good for the fifth-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers.
However, taking third-period penalties and letting a team remain in the game won’t bode well toward the end of the season. But with a long way to go before that happens, the Gophers can work out those kinks and can enjoy their third straight victory as they beat the Michigan State Spartans 3-1 on Friday night at 3M Arena at Mariucci in a Big Ten conference game.
Minnesota (2-1 Big Ten, 6-3 overall) jumped out to a 2-0 lead after two periods and kept Michigan State (0-1, 4-3) in check for most of that time, but the Spartans got two early power plays in the third period, scoring once in-between those advantages.
“That third period- you come out and you take a penalty 13 seconds in; four minutes later, another one. Not a good recipe when you’re up by a couple goals,” Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said.
But the Gophers penalty kill, which has been good all season long, killed both of them and went 4-for-4 in the game overall while scoring a power play goal of their own, continuing a recent uphill trend after a stretch where they went 3-for-31.
“We got all the pieces, but it was just about seeing how [we play],” Minnesota forward Brent Gates said. “I think we’re starting to figure it out now.”
Despite coming up short, Spartans head coach Danton Cole wasn’t too disappointed in the loss.
“I thought our guys worked hard. We had some chances around the net and we didn’t get them in,” Cole said. “No complaints. We want to keep getting better every game.”
However, he believes the power-play unit needs to be better Saturday.
“Just weren’t able to finish. We gotta tune that up a little bit and bear down on those chances,” Cole said. “When you get the extra man, you gotta be a little bit better.”
The Gophers got the all-important early lead just 3:22 in as Ryan Lindgren streaked toward the net to the right of Michigan State goaltender John Lethemon and tapped in a beautiful pass from Jack Sadek, who was in the right circle when he fed the puck.
“It was obviously a good play by Jack Sadek to get me the puck,” Lindgren said. “It was easy for me; it was all him. It was good to get a start like that.”
As the period progressed, Minnesota continued setting up well offensively. But the Spartans picked up the pace in the last five minutes of the period, forechecking better than they did at the start of the game and putting some shots on Minnesota goaltender Eric Schierhorn.
But as the Spartans turned on their pressure throughout the second period, Schierhorn simply got better, making some fantastic saves, including a speedy pad save on a late one-time chance from Tommy Apap. And on their first power play late in the second, the Gophers increased their lead to two as Gates camped in the slot and tipped home a shot by Leon Bristedt from the right point.
“Anytime you get a goal, you kinda get a little boost,” Gates said. “Going into the locker room we felt better about ourselves.”
Michigan State’s persistent offensive zone effort in front of Schierhorn finally paid off early in the third period when Sam Saliba buried a loose puck in the crease at 2:18 to cut Minnesota’s lead in half. But the Gophers replied quickly, restoring a two-goal lead three-and-a-half minutes later that held up the rest of the way when Casey Mittelstadt forced a turnover in the Spartan zone and fed Pitlick in the slot for the goal.
“The third goal was obviously important to give us that two-goal cushion,” Lucia said.
Pitlick has scored a goal in three straight Friday games.
Lethemon made 24 saves for Michigan State and Schierhorn finished with 25 for Minnesota.
With the two teams set to complete their conference series in a game earlier than normal (4 P.M.), both Cole and Lucia know pretty well what they have to do with such a quick turnaround.
“Gonna eat, gonna sleep, gonna eat again and play,” Cole said. “Should be a good hockey game.”
“Just a quick turnaround-take care of your body tonight, get a good cooldown in and come back to the rink ready to go,” Lucia said.
MINN goal at 3:22: Ryan Lindgren (1). Assisted by Jack Sadek (1).
MINN power play goal at 19:10: Brent Gates (3). Assisted by Leon Bristedt (1) and Ryan Zuhlsdorf (5).
MSU goal at 2:18: Sam Saliba (4). Assisted by Logan Lambdin (3) and David Keefer (1).
MINN goal at 5:50: Rem Pitlick (4). Assisted by Casey Mittelstadt (6).
Power plays: MSU 0-4, MINN 1-2.
Shots on goal: MSU 26, MINN 27.