Minneapolis, MN – Behind another solid effort from Eric Schierhorn and goals by Ryan Lindgren, Brent Gates and Rem Pitlick, the Gophers (6-3-0 Overall, 2-1-0 B1G) beat the Michigan State Spartans (4-3-0, 0-1-0) to improve their winning streak to three games and move atop the B1G Standings early in the season.
Unlike the previous few games where the Gophers came out of the gates sluggish and sloppy, Minnesota had jump from the opening puck drop Friday night. The Gophers were able capitalize on their early possession advantage to get on the scoreboard quickly in the first. Jack Sadek threaded a pass from the right point to a streaking Ryan Lindgren, who took the pass at the back door and tipped it past MSU goalie John Lethemon to give the Gophers a 1-0 lead just 3:22 into game period.
“It was a really good play by Jack Sadek to get me the puck,” said Lindgren, whose goal was the first of the season for the sophomore defenseman. “It was just exciting to be in the right spot there, and when [Sadek] makes a pass like that you just have to tap it in.” Continued Lindgren, “it was good to get a start like that.”
The Maroon and Gold controlled most of the rest of the period, keeping shots to the outside and trusting Schierhorn to make the big saves when they needed him. Minnesota had a few more good chances throughout the first, but settled for a 1-0 lead at the end of the period. Shots were 8-7 in favor of MSU in the frame, with shot attempts an even 16-16.
The second period saw quite a few scoring chances, but solid goaltending from both teams kept the score at a slim 1-0 Gopher lead throughout most of the middle 20. Schierhorn was called upon often, deflecting quality chance after quality chance from MSU. Michigan State’s Lethemon was equally impressive, stopping several Casey Mittelstadt chances and a Gopher breakaway.
Lindgren had high praise for Schierhorn, calling him “unbelievable throughout the whole year.”
“He’s been big for us,” Lindgren continued, “[the team in front of him] has had some not-so-great nights, and he’s been back there just rock solid.”
Minnesota earned its first powerplay of the game with 2:13 left in the second, when MSU’s Sam Saliba went to the box for a hook. The Gopher powerplay was ticking at under 10% prior to last weekend’s 3-for-10 performance against Clarkson, but the PP was able to connect here, as Brent Gates tipped a Leon Bristedt shot from the right circle past Lethemon to give Minnesota a 2-0 lead with just 50 seconds left in the second. Ryan Zuhlsdorf picked up the second assist on the play.
“[The powerplay] started off not too hot [this year],” said Gates. “We had all the pieces, it was just seeing how each other plays and kinda getting some chemistry.”
Eric Schierhorn was called upon once again to make a big save as the clock wound down, and he was again up to the task, keeping the Spartans off the board and preserving the Gophers’ two-goal lead. The shots on goal were all tied up after two periods at 20 shots each.
MSU received a very early powerplay to start the third (just 13 seconds into the period), and the Spartans would capitalize moments after the the Gophers killed the penalty. Sam Saliba scored the Spartan goal at 2:18 off a scrum in front of the net to draw within one at 2-1.
43 seconds after the Saliba goal, Michigan State earned another powerplay chance as Ryan Zuhlsdorf went off for cross-checking at 3:01, but a good Gopher penalty kill nullified MSU’s chance to even up the game.
Minnesota got its two-goal lead back at 5:50 of the third, as Casey Mittelstadt stole the puck from an MSU defender and fed Rem Pitlick in the slot for his fourth goal of the season.
The insurance goal would be important, as an undisciplined Gopher team took yet another penalty and Michigan State continued to press the Gopher defense with chances. Jack Sadek went off for kneeing at 10:38 of the period to give MSU yet another chance at the man-advantage. However, Jack Ramsey drew a holding call 47 seconds into the Spartan man-advantage to nullify the powerplay.
Coach Lucia targeted discipline in his post-game comments: “We were real disciplined early in the game, and then in that third period you come out and you take a penalty 13 seconds in, and then another one four minutes later. We had three penalties in the first ten minutes.” Added Lucia, “[It’s] not a good recipe when you’re up by a small number of goals going into the third period.”
Michigan State pulled their goalie with just over a minute remaining in the game, but could not beat Eric Schierhorn again, and Minnesota skated away with a 3-1 victory in front of 7,484 happy fans. Final shots on goal were 27 to 26 in favor of the Gophers.
Minnesota got all three stars of the game, with Eric Schierhorn (3, 25 saves), Steve Johnson (2, no points), and Brent Gates (1, 1G) earning the post-game nods from the assembled media.
Lucia cited the “quick turnaround” as a key to Minnesota’s performance tomorrow. Saturday’s game starts at 4PM, so it’s a shorter-than-normal layoff for both the Gophers and the Spartans. Fans can tune into FSN, stream at BTN2Go or Fox Sports Go, and listen in on 1130AM or 103.5FM.