MINNEAPOLIS – Even if it was a loss on Friday night, Minnesota head coach Bob Motzko would have been pleased with his team’s effort.
Forced to battle back from a two-goal third-period deficit, the 18th-ranked Golden Gophers scored twice and put 50 shots on goal to rally for a 2-2 tie with the Michigan Wolverines and earn a crucial point in the Big Ten standings.
Jake Slaker scored the lone shootout goal to keep Michigan’s hopes for home ice alive and denied Minnesota a chance for an outright regular-season title. Penn State earned a share of the championship with the result, and the Nittany Lions are guaranteed the #1 seed in the conference tournament.
Motzko wasn’t complaining too much about the result – aside from the beginning of the game, that is.
“Outside of the first ten minutes – we were a little shaky to start the game,” Motzko said. “We couldn’t have played any better the next 55 minutes.
“I like the way we played. If we play like that, we’re good.”
After a back-and-forth start for both sides in which neither team had much of a forecheck, Michigan scored first as Luke Morgan beat Jack LaFontaine over his left shoulder. Overall, it was a lackluster first ten minutes for Minnesota, and it proved to be a factor in the end.
The Gophers finally picked up some steam offensively and put pressure on Strauss Mann in the Wolverines net in the final ten minutes of the stanza, but one close call after another saw Michigan escape with the one-goal lead.
Minnesota continued their relentless pursuit of the equalizer throughout the second period, putting 20 shots on goal in the frame alone. But most of those shots found the gut of Mann with minimal rebounds.
“Strauss Mann was outstanding tonight. We had plenty of looks,” Motzko said.
Nick Pastujov added to Michigan’s lead with a nice deke in front of LaFontaine early in the third, silencing the raucous crowd of 8,149 temporarily. But they were roaring once again less than two minutes later as Jackson LaCombe threw in a wrist shot, putting the Gophers on the board at last.
A lot of chances went by the wayside for the Gophers as time ran down, but when Jack Becker was tossed from the game for ramming Tyler Nanne headfirst into the boards from behind, Minnesota went on a five-minute power play with 6:40 remaining, and they finally tied the game four minutes to go as a Robbie Stucker laser from the high slot was tipped in by Brannon McManus out in front of Mann.
The Wolverines and Gophers conclude their regular seasons with a 5:00 CT puck drop on Saturday. Michigan can leapfrog Minnesota in the standings with a regulation/first overtime win, while the Gophers clinch home ice with one point or a loss by Ohio State or a loss/tie by Notre Dame. A win outright gives Minnesota the #2 seed and a share of the conference title with Penn State, which would be their fifth in seven years since joining the Big Ten.
“We talked about that tonight. We got a chance to be co-champs tomorrow, and that’s our whole thing,” Motzko said. “Get out and play tomorrow.”
MICH goal at 4:27: Luke Morgan (4). Assisted by Nick Granowicz (4) and Jake Slaker (15, 100 career points).
MICH goal at 3:56: Nick Pastujov (8). Assisted by Nolan Moyle (4) and Dakota Raabe (8).
MINN goal at 5:47: Jackson LaCombe (3). Assisted by Ryan Zuhlsdorf (8).
MINN power-play goal at 15:58: Brannon McManus (9). Assisted by Robbie Stucker (5) and Ben Meyers (16).
Power plays: MICH 0-2, MINN 1-4.
Shots on goal: MICH 29, MINN 50.