5-1, 5-2 Wins keep Minnesota atop Big Ten Standings
Columbus, OH – There’s no time like the present to start a new winning streak.
After a 10-game jaunt to start the season, Minnesota had lost 3 of 4 to Wisconsin and Notre Dame in mid-January before exploding for 20 goals last weekend against a road-weary Arizona State team.
The biggest outstanding question was which Gopher team was more like the real one? The team that struggled to score against a defensive Notre Dame squad en route to their first back-to-back losses of the season, or the team that came back and put up 10 goals each night against the Sun Devils?
This weekend’s games at Ohio State went a long way towards answering the question. Minnesota (15-3-0 Overall, 11-3-0 B1G) drubbed Ohio State (5-12-1, 5-11-0) 5-1 Friday before winning a tighter game 5-2 Saturday, getting back into the winning groove and maintaining their 5-point lead over 2nd place Wisconsin in the Big Ten conference standings.
The Gophers jumped out to an early two-goal lead in the first period Friday, with Jackson LaCombe netting a shorthanded goal to put Minnesota up 1-0 at 6:32 of the opening frame and Sampo Ranta scoring on a power move cutting across the goal at 11:29 to go up 2-0 after the first.
Sammy Walker scored the only goal of the second period at 7:07, on a nice two-on-one with Blake McLaughlin. Walker and McLaughlin have been all over the ice since the ASU series, good for 9 points combined against OSU and 21 in their last four games. McLaughlin had just 7 points on the season prior to the Sun Devils series, and Walker had just 10. Coach Bob Motzko challenged those two specifically to play a little harder, and the junior linemates have responded.
The Gophers tacked on two more goals by the midway point of the third (from McLaughlin and Meyers) to increase the lead to 5-0, but Ohio State scored late on the power play to end Jack LaFontaine’s shutout bid and close out the Friday scoring at 5-1.
Sophomore forward Bryce Brodzinski took the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty at the end of the game Friday that broke the shutout, and Brodzinski was in street clothes Saturday as Minnesota went for the sweep. Freshman Mason Nevers took Brodzinski’s place in the lineup. In, too, was Carl Fish for Matt Staudacher, who is still easing his way back into the lineup after being injured a few weeks ago.
The Gophers and Buckeyes played a pretty even first period Saturday, with both teams generating quality scoring chances and both goalies (Minnesota’s Jack LaFontaine and Ohio State’s Evan Moyse) standing tall. It was clear that Ohio State intended to play with a higher compete level in the rubber match. However, Jonny Sorenson was able to give the Gophers the lead 7:44 into the 1st on a two-on-one with Jaxon Nelson.
The game was a close one with the exception of a stretch early in the second period. At 1:18 of the middle period, Ohio State was hit with two penalties on the same play, one of which was a five-minute major. Armed with a full two minutes of 5-on-3, the Gophers pounced, with Sampo Ranta scoring 41 seconds into the man advantage, and Nelson scoring just 26 seconds later to make it 3-0 in favor of the visitors.
Ohio State killed off the remaining 3+ minutes of Minnesota power play and seemed energized from there, scoring a goal to draw within one less than a minute after the major expired. The play was tight throughout the rest of the second period, with Ohio State earning a late power play with a chance to get within one going into the third. The Gophers wouldn’t be stopped, though, with Jackson LaCombe scoring his second shorthanded goal in as many nights to put Minnesota up 4-1 going into the third and deflating the Ohio State attack.
The Buckeyes scored with just over five minutes left in the third, but it was too little too late for Ohio State, and Sammy Walker put the puck into the empty net with 20 seconds left to end the scoring at 5-2 and put a bow on Minnesota’s seventh series sweep of the season.
Up next, Minnesota hosts Wisconsin, a series with serious Big Ten conference implications. The Gophers currently hold a five-point lead over Wisconsin in the race for the Big Ten regular season championship, and a 10-point lead over third-place Michigan. A Gopher sweep would all but eliminate the Badgers from contention with 10 games left in the conference season, while a Badger sweep would put Wisconsin ahead in the race for the championship. A split would keep everything as is, giving Michigan a chance to catch up to both Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The Friday-Saturday affair kicks off at 7PM both nights. The games will be on FSN Plus, streamed on Fox Sports Go, and can be heard on AM1130.