Fourteen seconds into Friday’s game, the Gophers trailed Michigan.
Playing catch-up at home from the opening shot to the final minute, No. 9 Minnesota fell to the Wolverines 5-3 and extended a four-game conference losing streak. The Gophers are 1-7-1 in their last nine Big Ten conference games.
“We don’t want to start the game the first shift and get scored on,” said Brannon McManus, one of three Gopher freshmen forwards to score on Friday. “We have to start fast and obviously we didn’t. It set up behind a little bit.”
Minnesota (13-11-1, 4-8-1-1 Big Ten) did have a chance to tie the game with 41.4 seconds remaining on a power play. Setting up for an offensive zone faceoff, the Gophers — having already used their timeout on a failed offsides challenge — could not control the puck.
“Bottom line is that we’re not playing good enough. We’re not”
Michigan’s Brendan Warren took advantage to get the puck and easily scored on an empty net, turnovers and struggling defensemen bookending Minnesota’s night.
Dexter Dancs’ sixth goal of the season came off a neutral-zone turnover. Tony Calderone fed Dancs, who beat Gopher goaltender Mat Robson, making his second consecutive start.
“I thought they were the team who deserved to win the game tonight. Shots can be misleading at times depending upon the score. They were able to play for the lead and we chased the game,” Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said. “We didn’t do enough.”
Robson’s night didn’t get much better. The sophomore gave up three goals on nine first period shots, matching his total given up in three career games before being pulled for Eric Schierhorn in an attempt to get the team going. Schierhorn stopped 8 of 9 shots.
“Bottom line is that we’re not playing good enough. We’re not. The captains, myself…older guys got to make sure we bring what we have — experience. They are several of us who are not scoring at the pace we should or used to,” said senior forward Leon Bristedt. “We need to pick our game up. We can’t rely on the young guys.”
In three games — two losses and a tie — this season against the Wolverines, Minnesota has given up a combined 16 goals.
“It wasn’t like we gave up a ton of shots tonight, but you’re not going to win when you give up five or six goals a night plain and simple,” Lucia said.
Michigan (9-10-2, 4-7-2-1 Big Ten) used the offense to give itself a cushion following Casey Mittelstadt’s sixth goal of the season 2:21 into the game. Michael Pastujov found the back of the net with a behind the net pass that went off a Minnesota defender. Freshman Quinn Hughes fed Cooper Marody for the junior’s eighth goal of the season.
Scott Reedy helped Minnesota snap a six-game and 0 for 29 streak on the power play early in the second period as the Gophers outshot Michigan 10-5 in the second and 27-19 overall. The Wolverines were held without a shot during the first 10 minutes, however, Warren restored the two-goal lead by crashing the net and putting the puck just over the line.
Hayden Lavigne finished with 24 saves on Friday.
With the loss, the Gophers sit tied for fifth place in the Big Ten with Wisconsin, with the team’s 9-3-0 nonconference record holding up their NCAA Tournament dreams. Minnesota and Michigan play against Saturday night at 3M Arena at Mariucci. Puck drop is at 7:00 p.m.
“I think we have to go look ourselves in the mirror, myself and captains included, and get this team on the right path there,” Bristedt said. “We’re going to come out hungry tomorrow. Obviously, this is not okay the way we played today.”