MINNEAPOLIS – With their Big Ten home ice fate out of their hands coming into the weekend, all the Minnesota Golden Gophers can do at this point is finish their non-conference and regular season schedule strong.
Games like Friday night’s 5-1 victory over the 12th-ranked Arizona State Sun Devils will help with that, as will outside help from conference foes.
Thanks to Penn State losing at Notre Dame 5-4 in overtime, Minnesota will finish no worse than 4th in the conference standings, and that will guarantee them at least one game on home ice for the Big Ten Tournament. But all that matters right now is finishing the regular season strong, and all of a sudden the Gophers have won four of their last five games – all over ranked teams. There’s no margin for error now, and head coach Bob Motzko knows that full well.
“Our playoffs are right here. They’ve got a lot to play for,” Motzko said.
Jake Clifford scored to give Arizona State a quick lead, but the Sun Devils, who held out injured leading scorer Johnny Walker, simply had no answer after that. It seemed that every time they tried to push back, they offset it by taking a penalty. ASU ended up taking ten penalties in the contest, including seven in the third period alone that set up two Minnesota goals to put the game out of reach. Obviously, that didn’t sit well with head coach Greg Powers.
“Completely unacceptable,” Powers said. “We gave ourselves no chance to come back and win that game.
“That’s not us. What people saw tonight – that’s not us.”
Aside from taking three killer penalties themselves in the first period, Minnesota played like a team desperate to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive. But it was Arizona State getting the first goal of this all-time series as Clifford put the Sun Devils up 1-0 less than four minutes in. The Gophers responded with an outstanding goal from Sammy Walker, who raced up the middle and around the ASU defense before beating goaltender Joey Daccord on a backhand.
“We didn’t go backwards [after falling behind],” Motzko said. “We kept moving forward. We adjusted to some things they were doing.”
Minnesota kept their strong play going with a dominant second period, and Blake McLaughlin gave Minnesota a 2-1 lead with a wrist shot from the right circle that somehow snuck by Daccord.
“We got a nice bounce on that second one,” Motzko said. “That was a big goal for us.”
Everything started unraveling in a hurry for Arizona State in the third period, and it started with Tyler Nanne tapping in a beautiful backdoor feed from Brent Gates into a wide-open net, making it a 3-1 Gophers lead after just 40 seconds came off the clock. By then, the wheels were coming off for the Sun Devils, and their continued undisciplined play prevented them from putting together a rally. The seven penalties they took in the third period set up goals by Rem Pitlick and Brent Gates.
Daccord finished with 37 saves for Arizona State, and Mat Robson had 14 for Minnesota.
The Gophers will try for their first home sweep of the season at 7:00 CT on Saturday night.
ASU goal at 3:53: Jake Clifford (3). Assisted by Dominic Garcia (5) and Brinson Pasichnuk (1).
MINN goal at 15:47: Sammy Walker (10). Assisted by Blake McLaughlin (15) and Sam Rossini (6).
MINN goal at 14:04: McLaughlin (4). Assisted by Walker (14) and Tyler Nanne (7).
MINN goal at :40: Tyler Nanne (5). Assisted by Brent Gates (15) and Ryan Zuhlsdorf (7).
MINN power-play goal at 9:42: Rem Pitlick (18). Assisted by Tyler Sheehy (26).
MINN power-play goal at 16:06: Gates (13). Assisted by Pitlick (22) and Sheehy (27).
Power plays: ASU 0-4, MINN 2-10.
Shots on goal: ASU 15, MINN 42.