Minneapolis, MN – Halfway through the 2018-2019 season, the two biggest problems for this Gopher team have been costly defensive lapses and lack of finishing.
Both were on display Friday night.
Minnesota (6-8-4 Overall, 3-3-3 B1G) played well enough to win in the series opener versus Penn State (12-5-2, 4-4-1), but their two big issues reared their heads throughout the game, and as the dust cleared after the final horn the Nittany Lions walked away with a 4-2 win.
Penn State came into the game ranked #9 in the country, and they looked good throughout most of the first period. Junior goalie Mat Robson made some big saves to keep the two teams tied, and Minnesota capitalized on the second of back-to-back penalties against PSU’s Alec Marsh to take a late 1-0 lead. Brent Gates took a Tyler Sheehy pass from behind the net and his wrister beat Penn State’s Peyton Jones glove-side to put the Gophers up 1-0 at 17:16 of the period. Sampo Ranta recorded the second assist on the powerplay goal.
Minnesota has at times lost its edge for long stretches throughout this season, and the 22 or so minutes from the start of the second to the start of the third was one of those stretches. Over that time, Minnesota’s twin issues popped up time and time again, while Penn State took advantage of their opportunities to build what would turn out to be an insurmountable lead.
PSU scored quickly in the second as Brandon Biro’s unimpeded wrist shot beat Mat Robson high to the glove side at 3:29 of the period. The Nittany Lions took the lead less than five minutes later when defenseman Kevin Kerr’s unimpeded wrister from above the circle beat Robson glove side again. Both goals were ones that Robson would like to have back, as both were straight-on shots from the top of the circles with no screens.
Penn State continued to dominate the second period, building a big shot advantage – the Nittany Lions outshot the Gophers 16-11 in the middle frame – it was worse than that before a late Gopher powerplay gave Minnesota a few quality looks. That powerplay extended into the early third period, but it was Penn State that extended their lead after the penalty had expired. A defensive lapse allowed Denis Smirnov to drift all alone to the low slot, and Ludvig Larsson found him from behind the net for a quick strike and a goal just 1:23 into the third.
The Gophers kicked it into gear after the third PSU goal, and outplayed Penn State down the stretch, but lack of finishing again did them in. Jack Ramsey of all people got the Gophers back in the game on a nice toe-drag wrist shot at 7:17. The goal drew Minnesota within one at 3-2, and from there in it was a frenetic rush to even up the score. The Gophers had chance after chance in the final 10+ minutes to try and get that tying goal, but pucks bounced over sticks, shots went juuuuust wide, and PSU goalie Peyton Jones made some nice stops to keep the Gophers off the board the rest of the way.
Penn State added an empty-netter with 18 seconds left to increase their lead to 4-2, putting an ignominious coda on an otherwise nice period from the Gophers – Minnesota outshot PSU 14-6 in the final 20 minutes, and generally looked like the better team. They just could not get the puck in the net, and at the end of the day it’s the big number on the scoreboard that matters. At this point, the Gophers need to start making moves in order to have a reasonable chance at making the big dance.
Minnesota will try and salvage a home split Saturday when they take on the same Nittany Lions team at 7PM. Coverage returns to normal tonight, with the game on FSN TV, streamed on Fox Sports Go, and on the radio at 1130AM.