With their backs against the wall, the Minnesota Golden Gophers got it done on Saturday night.
Minnesota got a quick goal from an unlikely source on its way to an improved showing from Friday — and more importantly a 2-1 victory over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. That victory extends its season to a Sunday night game that determines which team moves on to the next round of the Big Ten Tournament.
“The first period, it took us a bit to get going, the goal was huge, obviously,” head coach Bob Motzko said. “We came out in the second and we really started to fight back. We spent more time in their zone, made them have to defend, that loosened the game up for us and our guys got into it.”
The Gophers mustered 12 shots on Friday and tallied no goals, but it only took their 13th shot of the weekend — and first of Saturday’s game — to break the goal line behind Notre Dame goaltender Cale Morris.
Senior defenseman Ryan Zuhlsdorf scored his first goal of the season in what could have been his last game on home ice. He flew to the slot in the offensive zone where captain Sammy Walker found his stick wide open to rip a shot past Morris just under 1:30 into the game.
“It’s nice just to get on the board for the guys and get a little momentum going for us,” Zuhlsdorf said. “It’s certainly a good feeling getting the first one of the year.”
Minnesota had a quick start but reverted back to what was ailing the team on Friday night for the rest of the first period. In the second, though, the Gophers found a way to get back on the offensive against the Irish.
Motzko dubbed the game a “rock fight” with the physicality and chippiness that comes with playing against Notre Dame, and Minnesota tossed the rocks right back in the second period and into the third. In doing so, it took equal efforts from all four Gopher forward lines.
That four-line effort shined in the game-winning goal early in the third period. Forward Cullen Munson scored his second goal of the season with assists to his linemates Jonny Sorenson and Joey Marooney on a hustle play where Sorenson stripped the Notre Dame breakout play and sent the puck back to Munson in on the goal mouth where he had a few whacks at it until it went in the net.
“It started with a great forecheck,” Munson said. “They wrapped it up the boards and Marooney came down, caused a little fumble on the wall, and [Sorenson] found me.”
In all, this victory means Minnesota lives to fight another day for both the Big Ten tournament and a spot in the NCAA Tournament. The series-deciding game will happen Sunday night at 6:00 p.m. at 3M Arena at Mariucci.
The winner of the game gets to continue its season in a one-game semifinal round with a visit to the top-seeded Penn State.