Thanks to a timely swipe of the puck, the second-half surge for the Gophers men's hockey team continued Friday night, when No. 10 Minnesota beat No. 6 Ohio State 2-1 at 3M Arena at Mariucci for the Gophers' sixth win in their past seven games.
With about 40 seconds left in the third period, Ohio State's Brendon Kearney took a shot from the side of the net. The puck hit the far post and slid across the crease right on the goal line behind Gophers goalie Mat Robson. It was there for the scoring for the Buckeyes, but Gophers defenseman Jack Sadek came to the rescue by clearing it down to the other end of the ice.
"It was crazy. It bounced off three or four guys and just ended up behind Robson. I was lucky enough to be there to clear it," Sadek said. "… Probably not the best clear up the middle, but it worked out."
Indeed, it did as the Gophers improved their chances of securing home ice for the best-of-three Big Ten quarterfinal series. Minnesota (19-3-1, 10-10-1-1 Big Ten) is in fourth place in the conference, the last spot for home ice. The Gophers are four points ahead of fifth-place Wisconsin and three behind third-place Michigan. Ohio State (19-8-4, 12-8-1) is in second place, five points ahead of the Gophers.
Sadek's timely play, which came with Ohio State goalie Sean Romeo pulled for an extra attacker, was just one highlight for the Gophers. The others came from Brent Gates Jr. and Jack Glover, who scored goals, and Robson, who made 21 saves.
"You've got to have a little puck luck once in a while, too," Gophers coach Don Lucia said. "We didn't have a lot the first half of the year, and maybe we're making up for it now."
The Gophers, in front of an announced crowd of 9,704, outshot Ohio State 28-22, holding the Buckeyes to only five shots on goal in the first period and eight in a frantic third.
Minnesota controlled play in the first period, and Gates gave the Gophers a 1-0 lead at 9:02 when he backhanded a rebound of a Tommy Novak shot past Romeo.
Early in the second period, Robson made his biggest save of the game, denying Kearney at the doorstep with his glove.
"Some of the saves he made tonight were incredible," Glover said. "Ever since he's come in halfway through [the season], we've had a lot of confidence in him. That helps the whole team play better when you've got a guy capable of saves like that."
Glover gave the Gophers a 2-0 lead at 9:43 of the second when, after having his first shot blocked, he patiently gathered the puck, picked his spot and beat Romeo over his right shoulder. The goal was Glover's first of the season.
"I had a little more time than usual," Glover said. "I just tried to get a better angle and get it on net, and kind of lucky little deflection there."
With 3:28 left in the second, Glover was sent off for cross-checking Kearney. Boos rained down on the officials because replays showed that Kearney already was falling to the ice before Glover made contact. Minnesota nearly killed off the penalty, but defenseman Matt Miller beat Robson with six seconds left in the power play and 1:33 left in the period.
Then came the third and the frenetic finish.
"It was pretty intense," Gates said. "Those are the fun ones, when everyone's into it, everyone's up on the bench. There's a lot on the line, and we know that."