ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Gophers hockey coach Don Lucia says his team is not at a crossroads.
Sure, Michigan swept the Gophers with a 7-5 victory Saturday, and earned Red Berenson his 800th coaching victory. Yes, goaltender Adam Wilcox was pulled after allowing five goals on 16 shots in less than 25 minutes. And it has been two months since the Gophers have won back-to-back games.
"You're never as good as you think you are," Lucia said, "and you're never as bad as you think you are."
As ugly as Saturday's outcome looked, the Gophers (10-7-1, 1-2-1-0 Big Ten) ultimately were doomed by two goals in the final minute of the first period that gave the Wolverines (12-7-0, 4-1-0) a 4-1 lead.
With 43 seconds left before intermission and the Gophers trailing 2-1, Michigan forward Zach Hyman took advantage of a pair of sagging defenders and wristed a low shot that skittered past Wilcox's leg pad. Thirty seconds later, J.T. Compher won a battle for the puck in the slot and chipped it past Wilcox.
"Anytime you go down 4-1 in this barn, that's one hell of a hole to get out of," Gophers forward Seth Ambroz said. "The compete was there, the effort was there, but the execution was not."
The Gophers took a 1-0 lead 7:29 into the game after forward Travis Boyd, charging the net, took a return pass from linemate Leon Bristedt and froze Michigan goaltender Steve Racine with a backhand deke before switching to his forehand.
The Wolverines tied the score five minutes later when forward Travis Lynch poked the puck past Gophers defenseman Mike Reilly along the far wall in the neutral zone, skated in on a 2-on-1 and rifled a shot over Wilcox. Michigan grabbed a 2-1 lead on Andrew Copp's power-play goal with 5:33 left in the first period on a drive Wilcox, who was screened, never saw.
"It was a 1-0 game with seven minutes to go and a 2-1 game with a minute to go," Lucia said. "I told our guys to stay with the game. We wanted to win the second period, and we did that."
Boyd scored again 47 seconds into the second period, cutting the Michigan lead to 4-2, after Ambroz picked off a sloppy clearing attempt and delivered a perfect pass in the slot. Four minutes later, however, the Wolverines chased Wilcox for good when defenseman Michael Downing's seemingly innocuous shot from the point got past the junior goaltender.
Freshman Nick Lehr, a Roseville native making his Gophers debut in relief of Wilcox, got a boost when Ambroz's centering attempt hit a Wolverines defender and caromed into the Michigan net 5:09 into the second period to make the score 5-3.
Lehr, who made 16 saves, allowed one second-period goal — Dylan Larkin's power-play score that ricocheted off the skate of Gophers defenseman Ben Marshall. The period ended with a goal in the final minute from the Gophers' Connor Reilly, who banged home a Hudson Fasching feed for his 10th goal of the season, making it 6-4.
Michigan took a 7-4 lead 2:12 into the third period on Larkin's second goal of the game.
The Gophers' A.J. Michaelson ended the scoring with his first goal of the season with 2:08 left.
"To me the positives were, we scored five goals," Lucia said. "I actually thought we did a lot of good things tonight. There were some negatives, but there were some positives, too."
The Gophers welcome rival Wisconsin to Mariucci Arena for a pair of games next weekend.
"We've got to check the mirror," Ambroz said. "It's a must that we find a way to bounce back."