NEW YORK – Gophers men's hockey coach Don Lucia knew his team had put itself in a desperate situation going into the series with Michigan State this week.The Gophers dug themselves a hole with a recent five-game conference losing streak. But following a one-goal win at Michigan State on Thursday, the Gophers kept the momentum going with a 2-1 victory against the Spartans on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
Casey Mittelstadt and Brent Gates Jr. finished with two points apiece. Gates scored the game-winning goal at 16 minutes, 31 seconds in the third period.
"We were able to go out last night, have some fun and walk around the city," Mittelstadt said. "But we knew coming out tonight that we were going to need a win."
The Gophers (15-12, 6-9-1-1 Big Ten) had lost seven of eight conference games before playing last-place Michigan State.
With their chance of winning the league title already gone, the Gophers are playing to stay in NCAA tournament contention. They couldn't afford to lose to an opponent lower than them in the Big Ten standings like Michigan State.
Moving forward, Minnesota has several chances to pick up quality wins starting in the next series vs. No. 1 Notre Dame at home.
"We had to grind out the win tonight, and it wasn't easy," Lucia said. "We didn't think it would be."
Over 100 Gophers fans left over from watching the men's basketball team fall to Ohio State 67-49 earlier Saturday filled up half a section in the lower bowl seating area for Minnesota's hockey game.
In the first period, the Gophers squandered their first opportunity with only one shot on goal during a five-minute power play when Michigan State received an unsportsmanlike penalty for striking Tommy Novak in the head. Spartans leading scorer Mitchell Lewandowski saw his four-game goal streak end after being tossed for the illegal contact.
After being dominated on the puck to begin the opening period, Minnesota took advantage of its first true scoring opportunity when Gates dropped a lead pass in front of the net to Mittelstadt, who scored his seventh goal of the season for a 1-0 lead at 11:23.
The Gophers outshot the Spartans 18-14 after two periods, but Michigan State tied it 1-1 after Cody Milan tapped in a shot around Minnesota's Mat Robson at 8:22 in the third period.
"We were playing in such a historic venue," Lucia said. "But as we told our players, 'It's only fun when you win.' "