Justen Close with another shutout for the Gophers. Photo by Craig Cotner.
Justen Close with another shutout for the Gophers. Photo by Craig Cotner.

Sellout, Shutout! Close, Gophers Blank PSU 3-0

Minneapolis, MN – Rhett Pitlick scored two goals in the first 3:49 of play, Justen Close made 36 saves, and the Minnesota Gophers (17-7-5 Overall (3-0 OT), 8-5-2-4 B1G (32 pts)) shut out the Penn State Nittany Lions (12-12-3 (0-0), 4-10-2-1 (17)) 3-0 in front of a regular-season record 10,750 fans at Mariucci.

The record crowd didn’t have long to wait for something to cheer for. Just 43 seconds into the contest, Rhett Pitlick tipped in an Oliver Moore pass on a great give-and-go play to put the Gophers up 1-0. Pitlick struck again at 3:49 on a rebound off a Luke Mittelstadt shot from the point to give Minnesota a 2-0 lead.

Rhett Pitlick gets his 2nd goal of the night on the teams 2nd shot. Photo by Craig Cotner.
Rhett Pitlick gets his 2nd goal of the night on the teams 2nd shot. Photo by Craig Cotner.

The game settled down after the raucous start, but things heated back up near the end of the second period. On the same play, Aaron Huglen tripped a Penn State player behind the PSU goal and Carl Fish head-contact checked a Penn State forward, so Minnesota was called for a 2-minute minor and 5-minute major at the same time, 14:20 of the period. Minnesota had two full minutes of 5-on-3 to kill, but Justen Close and the three-man PK unit stood tall and killed the two minute minor to Huglen. Just 1:14 after Huglen left the penalty box, Jaxon Nelson cross-checked a PSU player into the boards and got called for a cross-checking penalty of his own, putting Penn State on yet another lengthly 5-on-3 advantage. Again, Minnesota’s killers (led by Close) were able to kill the penalty, and the Gopher players entered the locker room at the second intermission to thunderous support of a team that had just killed nine minutes of penalties in the final 5 minutes of the period.

Connor Kurth put the game away early in the third period, scoring 1:16 into the third with his trademark hard work resulting in a goal off a scrum in front of the PSU net. The goal put Minnesota up 3-0 in the third, and from there the team played sound fundamental hockey to salt the game away.

Justen Close earned his 12th shutout of his Gopher career, now tied for second place all-time and one away from tying for first place with Adam Wilcox and Kellen Briggs.

Minnesota is now solidly in third place in the Big Ten standings, with 32 league points, which is five ahead of fourth-place Notre Dame and seven ahead of fifth-place Michigan (who has two games in hand). The Gophers sit six points behind second place Wisconsin (two games in hand), and 11 points behind first-place Michigan State. It is unlikely that Minnesota will catch the top two teams in the league, while they have a significant lead over the teams chasing them.

The win also was good for Minnesota’s Pairwise ranking. Coupled with other results around the country tonight (most importantly Quinnipiac’s loss to #55 St. Lawrence) it moved the Gophers up into the #8 Pairwise, good for a #2 seed in the NCAA tournament if the season were to end today.

The season doesn’t end today, though. Minnesota suits up to take on Penn State looking for the weekend sweep tomorrow afternoon. The matinee is a 3PM puck drop.

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