Minnesota needed two goals to come back against Michigan in the third period.
Instead, the Gophers finished with two shots.
Defeated, distraught and looking for answers, frustration boiled over Saturday. The mood inside the Minnesota locker room was quite different than six days earlier when the team emerged with a shutout win over the No. 1 team in the nation.
Michigan (10-10-2, 5-7-2-1 Big Ten) left 3M Arena at Mariucci with a 3-1 win and the first-ever Big Ten sweep over the Gophers by a visiting team. Early goals doomed the home team once again. The Wolverines scored twice in the opening 3:06, digging a hole too deep for Minnesota (13-12-1, 4-9-1-1 Big Ten).
Believing what they’re doing is not working and needing to get on the same page, Gopher players held a 15-minute meeting postgame once the coaches left.
“We addressed each other. We have to hold each other accountable and hold ourselves accountable,” said Minnesota captain Tyler Sheehy.
A night after the Gophers gave up a goal on the very first shift, Michigan’s Brendan Warren scored on the second. Josh Norris wasted no time on a Jake Slaker pass to beat Eric Schierhorn on the power play.
The Wolverines got the game’s first eight shots on goal.
“Confidence is a funny thing, isn’t it? You think after coming away from Sunday and the energy in the locker room after the game that it would follow through,” Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said. “It’s finding the mesh. That’s probably been my biggest frustration as a coach this year is that I’ve never felt how to put the puzzle together.
“You keep moving things around, but you can’t get it. You can’t solve the puzzle.”
Lucia tried several combinations throughout the night in an attempt to get the Gophers going.
Minnesota’s power play scored for a second straight game when Romanko, not normally on the man advantage, put home a rebound for his second goal in three games.
While the Gophers had chances, Hayden Lavigne rarely was tested. 19 of Minnesota’s 49 chances went wide. Several more were blocked or passed up as players tried to take on the Wolverines by themselves, not involving their teammates or were not on the same page sharing the puck. Individuals became a theme the longer the game continued.
“It’s not necessarily a lack of chemistry between the guys, but we just need to build upon that chemistry whether it’s here at the rink or outside the rink,” said Romanko. “That’s one area we can improve upon.”
As it has all weekend, Michigan quickly restored a two-goal lead. Cooper Marody was left open on a power play less than two minutes after Romanko’s goal.
Minnesota’s loss combined with Wisconsin defeating Michigan State drops the Gophers to sixth place in the Big Ten, 11 points behind third-place Ohio State and 1-8-1 in their last 10 conference games.
Big Ten games are worth three points apiece.
In an inconsistent season, the final 10 games take on a more pressing matter. Minnesota dropped from ninth to tied for 15th in the Pairwise (Michigan went from 27th to 15th), which mimics the criteria used to select the NCAA Tournament field. A difficult schedule is ahead with the Gophers needing to stay above .500 to make stay eligible.
Emerging from a meeting to shape the final 10 games, Minnesota players admit there is a rising urgency.
“They have to want it just as much as everyone else. Everybody’s got to be together. It has to be a group effort. It can’t be a single effort every night,” Sheehy said about his team. “Guys aren’t having the years they want.
“It’s frustrating, but at the end of the day you just got to understand if we go to St. Paul (for the Frozen Four) and we play well that’s the goal. The points at the end of the year doesn’t matter. It’s a team effort. You can’t be selfish. It’s a team effort every night and we have to come together these last 10 games and the postseason, we have to be great.”