Head coach Bob Motzko said that a few times in his opening statement after the Michigan State Spartans came back in the third period to beat his Minnesota Golden Gophers 4-2 on Saturday night in a sudden end to the team’s recent winning ways.
The Gophers went up 2-1 for the end of the second period and began the final 20 minutes with that lead, but saw it slip away quickly on a night where the home team looked poised for two periods to get its seventh consecutive victory.
“It was kind of a tale of two games for us tonight,” Motzko said. “We couldn’t have been any better early and any worse late.”
Minnesota led the way not only on the scoreboard, but in shots as well, by a seemingly large number. The Gophers had registered 32 shots in the first two periods alone, compared to Michigan State’s 20. That all flipped in the third period where Michigan State had 15 shots compared to Minnesota’s six.
The breakdown began with two penalties to Minnesota defenseman early in the third period.
Ryan Johnson took a hooking penalty 1:30 into the period, but the Gophers killed it off. Shortly after that penalty expired, Jackson LaCombe got caught with a holding penalty just over four minutes into the frame to send Minnesota down a man once more.
This time, the Gophers weren’t unscathed. A shot from the offensive blue line from Michigan State’s Dennis Cesana broke through Minnesota goaltender Jared Moe to tie the game with just over 15 minutes to go.
From there, the spiral continued downward as the Gophers defense looked flat-footed and the offense couldn’t break out of the defensive zone or penetrate the middle of the ice in the Spartans’ zone.
“They’re very hungry,” defenseman Ryan Zuhlsdorf said. “Especially after last night. They’re a good team, they’re very physical, so we should have been ready for that and we should have expected a push.”
Minnesota took just those two penalties in the game, though the stretch managed to be damaging enough to continue Michigan State’s surge back to life with two more goals after the tying marker from Cesana.
Physicality for the Gophers was an issue coming into the series because of the Spartans’ size and experience in this league. Minnesota managed to mitigate those effects in Friday’s game and the initial surge out of the gate on Saturday, but became harder and harder as the game progressed and Michigan State wore down the defense and smaller Minnesota forwards.
Despite the collapse, Minnesota had two periods of play consistent with its six-game winning streak. The Gophers will look to take that consistency on the road with them as they head on the road to face Notre Dame next weekend for another pivotal conference series.
“There’s definitely lessons every game, win or lose,” forward Scott Reedy said. “We’ve got to look at the positives … and keep being positive as a team, there’s definitely something to learn from [Saturday.]”