Minneapolis, MN – “Home ice advantage is what you want,” said sophomore forward Brannon McManus after Friday’s game.
“Especially when you have long games like this one.”
Minnesota (17-15-4) found itself down 2-0 21:08 into the game and showing very little life, but dug deep and found a third period spark to tie Michigan (13-15-7) in the final frame and win it 3-2 on McManus’ overtime goal.
The Gophers could not have started much worse, with Rem Pitlick taking a penalty just 0:17 into the first period. Although Michigan could not score on the man-advantage, the early penalty kill seemed to throw the Minnesota bench out of whack.
Gopher captain Tyler Sheehy summed up the start simply: “First shift penalty, really not what you’re looking for.”
Sheehy noted that the early penalty allowed Michigan to “get that momentum right away,” and the Wolverines capitalized with a Michael Pastujov goal at 8:28 to take a 1-0 lead.
Sheehy said that, even though the team was out of sorts in the first ten minutes of the game (not even having registered a shot on goal by the 10-minute mark), the message on the bench was one of calm. “Stick to the system,” Sheehy said the message was. “One guy’s not going to be able to do it himself, to walk through five guys and score a goal. That was the message the whole night.”
The team stuck to the plan and got back into the game, registering six shots in the final half of the first and not conceding another goal to go into the locker room down 1-0.
Michigan came out with pace in the second and snuck another puck past goalie Mat Robson to give the Wolverines a 2-0 lead.
“Slow start for us,” Motzko commented. “They played with confidence tonight. It took us a little while to find confidence.”
Eventually, though, they did, sparked by the captain Sheehy. Sheehy led a rush down the left wing and roofed a backhander through traffic to score the Gophers’ first goal of the game at 4:42 of the second.
Motzko thought the goal was a crucial turning point in the game. “We needed a play, down like we were and not doing much, and that play got us going. You could feel it on the bench, we needed to feel good. ‘Cause you come into the night and you wanna get going, and we had a flat tire the whole first period.”
“We kept getting stronger as the game went on.”
The second period ended at 2-1, and the Gophers came out firing in the third. Minnesota outshot Michigan 14-7 in the final frame, and tied the game at 2-2 when Blake McLaughlin one-timed a Sammy Walker saucer pass on a two-on-one. The goal was just McLaughlin’s fifth of the year, but the assist was Walker’s 25th point of the season. Motzko issued some terse but high praise of Walker’s game: “He’s pretty special.”
The third period ended tied, and in the final 30 seconds Michigan’s all-world defenseman Quinn Hughes went to the bench grimacing. He did not play the rest of the period and did not hit the ice in the overtime. His availability will be important to watch for the rest of the series.
The Gophers earned an early powerplay in the OT period, but a Rem Pitlick penalty erased the advantage. Minutes later, Darian Romanko drove hard to the Michigan net and earned another powerplay, and this time the Gopher PP would not miss. Pitlick zoomed around the zone with the puck before dipping below the goal line and finding McManus in front of the net for the game-winning goal. McManus’s 14th of the year came 10:10 into overtime.
The win means the Gophers are just one win away from advancing on to the single-game semifinal of the Big Ten tournament. They need to win the tournament to earn a berth into the NCAA tourney.
Sheehy summed up the effort after the game: “We just kept fighting, that’s kinda been the identity to our team the last few weeks.”
They’ve got one more win to fight through before moving on to the semi’s.