The Slimmest of Margins: Gophers Lose 4-3 On Disallowed Goal with 5 Seconds Left

Minnesota Called Offside on Tying Goal, Drop Opener to Wisconsin

Minneapolis, MN – “[The referees] told me he was offsides.  I got a chance to look at the replay, and he was offsides.”

Gopher coach Don Lucia has a gift of keeping an even keel in emotional situations.  He’s the sort of guy that never gets too high and never gets too low.

Friday’s game between the Minnesota Gophers (18-16-0 Overall, 13-6-0 B1G) and the Wisconsin Badgers (8-17-8, 3-12-4-2) was anything but even keel.  A depressed Gopher team sulked in the first period, evened out in the second, and came alive in the third, only to have their comeback bid thwarted by a reviewed offside call with just five seconds left on the clock.  The loss means the B1G Regular Season title will go down to the last day, with the Gophers holding a slim one-point edge over the Michigan Wolverines prior to the final game of the season.

It’s hard to remember after watching this game, but Minnesota actually scored the first goal, a powerplay marker from Leon Bristedt at 9:18 of the first.  Wisconsin roared back late in the period, getting a PP tally of their own from Jedd Soleway at 17:49 to tie it at one goal each.  Soleway was ejected from the game after taking a five-minute major for Checking From Behind at 19:28 of the period, but Wisconsin’s Luke Kunin stole an ill-advised Jake Bischoff pass and walked in all alone to beat Eric Schierhorn with just 19 seconds left in the period to go up 2-1.

Wisconsin padded their lead with a Grant Besse powerplay goal at 11:19 of the second, and although the Gophers started picking up their effort in the middle stanza, they went into the final 20 minutes down 3-1.

This is where it got interesting.

The Gophers slowly but surely picked up the pace in the third, and started to win puck battles and make crisper zone-outlet passes.  The work resulted in a goal, as Taylor Cammarata won the puck in the corner and fired a cross-ice pass to an open Vinni Lettieri at the left circle.  Lettieri’s one-time slapper beat Wisconsin goalie Matt Jurusik five hole and cut the lead to one with just over nine minutes remaining in the contest.

Minnesota pressed hard from then on, forcing the Badgers to dump the puck and change whenever they could.  Wisconsin was on their heels, and an icing call with 100 seconds left seemed like the perfect opportunity for the Gophers to pull the goalie and press the attack.

Wisconsin read the play perfectly, and Grant Besse scored his second goal of the night on an empty net at 18:44 to ice the game at 4-2.

Not so fast.

The Gophers again pulled the goalie, and freshman Tommy Novak was able to put home a goal from the low slot at 19:07 to bring Minnesota within one.  The Gophers pulled Schierhorn again in the final minute, but Wisconsin won the puck and yet again looked to again seal the game at 5-3.

Somehow, some way, the referees called Wisconsin’s 2-on-0 breakaway on the open net offsides.  The Badgers had used their timeout previously in the game, so they could not challenge the referee’s call.  It turned out after the fact that the players were not offsides.  That could have been a pivotal call, based on what happened next:

On the ensuing faceoff after the erroneous offsides call, Hudson Fasching took the puck up the left wing, curled around behind the net, and found Tommy Novak again alone in front.  Novak put it in to tie the game with just five seconds left, and the crowd went absolutely mad.

The referees reviewed the goal, first to determine whether the net had been knocked off prior to the goal going in (it had not), and next to see if Vinni Lettieri was still offside by the time Fasching entered the offensive zone.  After a protracted review, the referees waived off the goal, stating that Lettieri was indeed offside on the play.  An absolutely crazy end to a crazy game.

The loss ended the chances of the Gophers getting an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament – to get in, they’ll need to win the B1G postseason tourney next weekend.

Who the Gophers face in the tournament will be determined by how Minnesota finishes in the standings – the Gophers are clinging to first place by just one point over Michigan.  A Minnesota win will lock up first place in the B1G, and a shootout win would clinch a tie (with the Gophers owning the tiebreaker).  A Michigan loss or shootout loss would also clinch the regular season title for the Gophers.  Minnesota and Michigan control the B1G Tournament first round byes, and the rest of the standings are determined: Penn State (3) will face Wisconsin (6), and Ohio State (4) will take on Michigan State (5).  The B1G first place team will play the winner of OSU/MSU, while second place will get the winner of PSU/UW.

Saturday’s B1G-deciding game will take place at 7:00, on the BTN for TV and 1500ESPN for radio.