Minneapolis, MN – Self-pitying Gopher fans (or “fans” like a certain Mr. Reusse) were getting ready to wring their hands and decry the state of the program when highly-touted sun-belters Arizona State came to town to end the regular season.
Unfortunately for them (and fortunately for the rest of us) Minnesota didn’t play to that pessimistic script.
The Gophers (15-15-4 Overall, 11-10-3 B1G) handed #12 Arizona State (21-11-1 Overall) one of their biggest losses of the season, a 5-1 drubbing that concluded with seven Sun Devil penalties in the third period alone.
ASU led early, as Jake Clifford beat Gopher goalie Mat Robson on the first shot of the game to put the Sun Devils up 1-0 just 3:53 in.
After that, it was basically all Gophers.
Sammy Walker tied up the game at 15:47 of the first with a brilliant end-to-end rush that completed with a top-shelf backhander to beat ASU goalie Joey Daccord.
The Gophers steadily kept the pressure up, outshooting the Sun Devils 14-5 in the first and 12-7 in the second to amass a big 26-12 advantage through two. Daccord was brilliant in net for Arizona State, and got helped out with something like three posts in the first two periods.
Minnesota finally took the lead at 14:04 of the second, when Blake McLaughlin’s wrist shot from the right circle deflected off an ASU defender and fluttered past Daccord to give the Gophers a 2-1 lead.
Even after the ice had been tilted towards Daccord for the first two periods, it was anybody’s game entering the third. Minnesota stepped on the gas right away.
Junior Gates found Tyler Nanne pushing undefended down the right wing, and Nanne tapped the puck into the empty net just 40 seconds into the third to give the Gophers a 3-1 lead. Shortly after, the ASU penalty parade began.
The Sun Devils took penalties at 2:41, two separate penalties at 7:44 to give Minnesota a 5×3, one at 10:56 and another at 12:16 to give the Gophers 40 seconds of 5×3, and then a penalty at 14:25 and another at 15:21 to give Minnesota their third 5×3 of the period.
The Gophers’ Rem Pitlick scored at the tail end of the first 5×3, and Junior Gates scored near the end of their final 5×3, to put the final score at 5-1. Shots on goal ended up 42-15 in favor of Minnesota.
The two teams battle again Saturday night. The puck drops at 7PM, and the game can be seen on FSN Plus, streamed on Fox Sports Go, and heard in the Twin Cities on AM1130.
Elsewhere around the Big Ten Friday night, Notre Dame beat Penn State and Wisconsin beat Michigan, which means that for now the Gophers sit in third place in the conference behind champion Ohio State and second-place Notre Dame. Michigan still has a chance to pass Minnesota with a win Saturday against Wisconsin, but the Gophers can finish no lower than fourth place. We will need to wait until after Saturday’s contests to see whether the Gophers will host Michigan, Penn State, or Wisconsin in next weekend’s Big Ten playoffs first round best-of-three series.