State College, PA – One thing we all know about college hockey is that, no matter what happened in the first game of a series, the second game is always a batte.
It’s a good thing for the Gophers that Matthew Knies is a warrior.
The sophomore forward was electric all night, saving his best until it mattered most as he scored the game-tying goal in the final minute before netting the game-winner in overtime, helping the Minnesota Gophers (23-8-1 Overall (4-3 OT), 15-3-2-2 B1G) come back to beat the Penn State Nittany Lions (19-12-1 (1-3), 9-9-0-4) 3-2 in Saturday’s series finale.
Penn State was determined to flip the script from Friday’s 7-2 beatdown, and they got off to a quick start, scoring just 29 seconds into the game on a top-corner wrister to grab their first lead of the series at 1-0.
The Nittany Lions played a strong first period, but were not able to get any more pucks past Minnesota netminder Justen Close, who made 9 saves in the first period (26 in total).
The Gophers came out a different team in the second period and began to tilt the ice towards PSU goalie Liam Souliere, who was pulled Friday after allowing 4 goals on only 12 shots. Minnesota broke through on a breakaway 1:58 into the second, when Rhett Pitlick took a beautiful tip pass from Connor Kurth between the Nittany Lion defenders and shot the puck through Souliere to tie the game at 1-1.
The Gophers put another puck in the net midway through the second period, but the would-be Brody Lamb goal was waived off due to unintentional goaltender interference.
From the second period on, the Minnesota controlled the play, outshooting Penn State 23-16 in the final 40 minutes and heaping the offensive pressure on the Nittany Lions. Souliere was brilliant throughout the contest, relying on some help from his posts and making quality saves on a bevy of grade-A Gopher chances to keep his team in it with a chance.
As the clock wound down in the third period, it felt like the Maroon & Gold needed to connect on just one moment to steal the game. Unfortunately, PSU was able to capitalize first. Danny Dzjaniyev snuck out front and shoveled a deflected centering feed past the right pad of Justen Close at 17:57 of the third to put Penn State up 2-1.
A goal that late in the game usually spells the end, but we’ve seen this Gopher team fight hard and find a way to score a late tying goal all year long. Saturday’s game was yet another in the “this team doesn’t quit” storybook. After an initial Gopher flurry followed by a timeout call by coach Bob Motzko, Matthew Knies was able to hit paydirt. The sophomore was in the right place at the right time (like usual), accepting a feed from Jimmy Snuggerud, who had rushed the puck up the right wing and all the way around the net. The centering pass slid through the crease past a Gopher and a Nittany Lion before finding Knies on the backdoor. Knies didn’t miss from there, scoring his 19th of the year to tie the game at 2-2.
In the overtime period, both teams had quality chances, including Knies hitting the post, before the Gophers were able to win it. Logan Cooley typically starts the 3×3 OT period with Knies, and it was on their second overtime shift that the dynamic duo was able to find a moment of magic.
Cooley controlled the puck behind the PSU net and into the left-wing corner, shadowed every step of the way by a Penn State defender. He deked like he was turning to go back to the blueline before cutting back hard to the outside, leaving the defender in his dust and all alone with only Souliere to beat. Everyone in the building thought he would shoot, but Logan Cooley is a special player that makes special plays, and he fed a perfect pass to a wide-open Matthew Knies, who one-timed the puck into the far side of the net to win the game for Minnesota 3-2.
Knies’ OT goal was his 20th of the season, which is tied for second in the nation behind Western Michigan’s Jason Polin (26). Cooley’s 44 points are good for 4th in the country, while linemate Jimmy Snuggerud’s 19 goals and 43 points are right behind.
The playoff picture in the Big Ten is murkier than ever as the league heads into its final regular season weekend. The only teams that are locked into their places are Minnesota (1st) and Wisconsin (7th). Michigan and Ohio State are currently tied for 2nd place with 36 points, Michigan State is in 4th place with 34 points, and Penn State and Notre Dame are tied for 5th with 31 points. MSU is off next weekend, while the Gophers host OSU, Penn State hosts UW, and Michigan hosts Notre Dame. We may have to break out the Big Ten tiebreaker rules to figure out who gets home ice and who has to travel at the conclusion of next weekend’s play. However the dust settles, the Gophers will host the worst-seeded remaining team the weekend after the first round playoff series.
The Maroon and Gold’s five-point weekend against a top Pairwise team like Penn State has increased their hold on the #1 overall seed. The Gophers probably need to win one more game throughout the rest of the season in order to feel good about getting the #1 overall seed. We’ll have to wait for CHN’s updated PWR Probability Matrix in order to see just how much closer Minnesota has crept to locking up the top seed in the tournament.
Up next for Minnesota is the regular season finale against The Ohio State University. Friday’s game is an 8PM affair, with a quick turnaround at 4:30 Saturday afternoon.
Post Game audio from Gopher Sports: