Top Line, Patterson Propel Gophers To Shutout Win
Golden Gopher fans hoping for a bounce-back performance from their favorite team were in luck on Friday night, as Minnesota played arguably its best game of the season in topping Bemidji State by a 3-0 score at Mariucci Arena and outshot the Beavers by a 36-13 margin.
Senior goalie Kent Patterson, who was shaky at times in a pair of losses last weekend at Denver, only had to make 13 saves as the team played much more like they did in the victories against St. Cloud State three weeks ago as opposed to as they did vs. the Pioneers. He added to his school record of shutouts in a season, with this being his seventh.
“I was pleased with the way our guys responded after a tough weekend last week,” head coach Don Lucia said. “The guys were really dialed in to the details we had to do in order to be successful tonight.”
The Gophers’ top line, which as usual consisted of Nick Bjugstad centering Zach Budish and Kyle Rau, was unstoppable for most the night and accounted for all three of the team’s goals. And the trio wasted no time getting the scoring going, as Budish tipped in his first of two goals on the night exactly one minute into the game. Rau gained the zone and dished the puck back to Mark Alt, who let a nice low shot go in on net. Budish was able to get the toe of his blade on it and the puck made its way past BSU goalie Dan Bakala to make it 1-0 Gophers.
“That top line … we just couldn’t handle them, we couldn’t contain them” said BSU head coach Tom Serratore.
Budish would get his second goal of the night later in the first period. Bjugstad, who was electic all night long, drove around the BSU defender and got a shot on net that Bakala turned away, but he got out of position making the save, and Budish was there to shelf the rebound to make it 2-0.
To cap the scoring on the night, the Gopher power play would cash in at the seven minute mark of the second peroid, as Bjugstad finished a great passing play to score his 22nd goal of the season. Erik Haula got the puck down low to Rau, who was in “his office” just to the left of the goalie, and he made a sweet cross-crease pass to Bjugstad, who took a second to corral the puck, but made no mistake with his shot as he too went high to the top corner for the tally.
“They outworked us, they outskilled us, and that’s just a great hockey team,” said Serratore, who sang the praises of the Gophers for several minutes after the game in terms of their strength, speed, etc. “Give Minnesota all the credit … to me, they were a National Championship caliber team tonight.”
Another key for the Gophers on this night was the lack of penalties, as in zero. None. Zip. Lucia noted that the staff talked with the team about this fact, as some third period penalties last Saturday cost the team two points against DU. Even after tonight, the Gophers lead the WCHA in penalty minutes per game.
As Lucia pointed out, it’s easier to avoid penalties when you have the puck instead of chasing it. They team won 35 of 51 faceoffs, so they certainly had their fair share of puck possession.
Patterson made a couple of key saves in the first period when they game was still in doubt, and looked like the goaltender fans have been accustomed to seeing all season long. Credit the forwards and defensemen too, who blocked several shots and showed the same kind of drive and will in terms of coming back hard that they did in the sweep of the Huskies.
The win keeps the Gophers in first place in the WCHA by one point over UMD (who beat Minnesota State 3-2) and by two points over Denver (who beat Wisconsin 3-0). The Gophers hold the tiebreaker over UMD but lose the tiebreaker to DU.
It was also just the Gophers’ fourth Friday night win in their last ten series. Minnesota is now 11-10-1 since sweeping North Dakota in early November.
From a national perspective, the win moved the Gophers up from 14th in the PairWise Rankings, and as of 11 p.m. CT they were tied for 9th.
The Maroon and Gold will look to secure the sweep and remain in first place in the WCHA on Saturday night at 7 p.m. before they turn their attention to Nebraska Omaha, who is next weekend’s opponent.