The Gophers don’t like to share. They didn’t have to on Saturday night.
After splitting points in two conference meetings with Michigan State, the Gophers closed out the regular-season series with a 1-0 victory at Mariucci Arena. All three points awarded to the Gophers.
Through 10 conference games, Michigan State is the only Big Ten team to take points away from college hockey’s top-ranked team. The Gophers’ lone goal was enough to win the season series and the accompanying trophy, though.
Kyle Rau jammed the puck over Michigan State goaltender Jake Hilde- brand’s pads early in the first period for a 1-0 lead. Adam Wilcox recorded the shutout with 19 saves and the Gophers defense blocked 17 shots.
“It’s really important. We know that every point counts,” Wilcox said. “Especially in shootouts … even though it’s one [extra] point, towards the end it can be life or death for us.”
The Gophers (19-2-5, 8-0-2 Big Ten) have plenty of life at the midpoint of conference play. They’re at the top of the standings with 26 points — nine ahead of second-place Michigan.
They looked like a first-place team in the opening period. Unhappy with Friday’s early effort, the Gophers veterans set the tone right away.
The starting line of Nate Condon, Travis Boyd and Seth Ambroz used the game’s first shift to get off a couple of shots and establish a physical presence.
Ambroz’s first check of the night only grazed its target and nearly took off his own helmet, but it got the student section and fans quickly engaged.
Everything escalated quickly and led to what looked like an early goal for the Gophers. Ryan Reilly redirected Christian Isackson’s slapshot and the referee signaled goal. A video review determined otherwise.
Michigan State’s Brent Darnell reached into the goal and pulled out the puck just before it could fully cross the goal line.
Ryan Reilly will have to wait for his first goal of the season, but the Gophers’ fourth line added a much-needed spark on Saturday night.
“I thought all of the lines were effective,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “Isackson’s line gave us some really good energy and some good offensive zone time, too. … We had a lot of energy tonight.”
The Gophers ended their streak of losing the shots-on-goal battle, outshooting the Spartans 38-19, but it didn’t mean extra scoring.
Hildebrand continued to stump the Gophers. Hildebrand, who entered Saturday’s game with a 2.31 goals-against average, made 37 saves in the series finale and 63 over the weekend, in addition to five in Friday night’s shootout.
The Spartans’ strength at blocking shots once again played a role. They spent most of the game in their own zone but fended constant pressure by the Gophers. The lone goal came in a scramble in front of the net.
“We wanted to have a good quick start,” Rau said. “We wanted to get them behind and see how it felt [for them].”
The Spartans handled it well but still couldn’t quite figure it out. They have lost four one-goal games this season and tied four times.