COLUMBUS, OHIO – The celebration will have to wait for at least another week.
The Gophers came into Value City Arena knowing that two victories would clinch the first-ever Big Ten regular season men’s hockey championship, and for just over 56 minutes on Saturday night, it appeared as though they would lock up first place.
Unfortunately for the top-ranked Gophers, Ohio State scored with 3 minutes, 50 seconds left in regulation to steal a 2-2 tie, then claimed the Big Ten’s bonus point by scoring the only goal in the shootout.
The result, coupled with Wisconsin’s 3-2 overtime victory at Penn State, means the Gophers will take a five-point cushion into the final two games at Michigan next weekend. The Gophers also could have clinched the championship had the Nittany Lions beaten the Badgers, and they would have clinched at least a tie had those teams gone to a shootout.
Ohio State’s Nick Schilkey scored the tying goal, lifting a rebound in front of the Gophers crease past goalie Adam Wilcox. Schilkey also scored the only goal of the shootout, on the Buckeyes’ first attempt.
“We made a couple of mistakes on the faceoff and lost our coverage,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said of the tying goal. “They made a good play to crash the net, where a lot of goals are scored this time of year.”
Added senior forward Nate Condon: “We were up with five minutes left, and that goal, it did deflate us a little bit. This is the time of year where these things happen, and we have to bounce back if we want to win championships.”
One player who did bounce back after the tying goal was Wilcox, who made five of his 41 saves in the overtime period, including a pair of stellar stops on Ryan Dzingel, the Big Ten’s scoring leader. The first saw Dzingel alone in the slot with 3 minutes, 24 seconds to play, but Wilcox made a terrific glove save. Nearly two minutes later, Dzingel broke in on a breakaway at the Gophers blue line, but Wilcox made the stop with his left leg and kept the puck frozen in the crease to preserve the tie.
“Adam is our best player, and he’s really been playing like it lately,” Condon said of Wilcox. “He’s the type of goalie who makes all the saves you want him to, and then gets to a couple that he shouldn’t. He really kept us in the game there in the third and overtime.”
The Gophers (24-4-6, 13-2-3 Big Ten), who took an early lead on a goal from Kyle Rau, held the Ohio State power play to only one goal on eight chances for the weekend, including 1-for-5 Saturday. However, Dzingel’s 18th goal of the season for the Buckeyes (15-12-5, 5-8-5-4) — a wrister over Wilcox’s glove-side shoulder — came on the man-advantage only 2:31 into the third period and tied the score at 1-1.
“Dzingel raised his game and was really a factor in the third period,” Lucia said. “I thought in the third, we looked a little bit tired. We seemed like we were kind of in control, kind of keeping things to the outside. Credit them with making the play, their best player made the play on the power play.”
The Gophers reclaimed the lead only 14 seconds later, with Ben Marshall sending a puck toward the net that Gabe Guertler met at the far post and redirected in past Ohio State goalie Christian Frey, who made 30 saves in regulation and overtime and then three more in the shootout.
The Gophers were without leading scorer Sam Warning following an injury he suffered in Friday night’s victory.