Bob Motzko expected a much stronger effort from Michigan State on Saturday after his Gophers men's hockey team embarrassed the Spartans with an eight-goal romp on Friday night. And the visitors responded with vim and vigor, dominating territorially in the first period and twice holding one-goal leads in the second.
The Gophers, though, shook off the early cobwebs from the 4 p.m. start. They turned it on late in the second period, getting goals by freshman Garrett Pinoniemi and senior Bryce Brodzinski to scratch out a lead on their way to a 6-3 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 10,253 at 3M Arena at Mariucci. Jimmy Snuggerud scored two goals and assisted on one, and Matthew Knies and Ryan Chesley each had a goal and an assist as Minnesota (20-7-1, 14-3-1 Big Ten) completed the sweep of the Spartans (13-13-2, 7-9-2).
"Our guys had it in their [team] app that that game started at 5 tonight,'' Motzko joked about the slow start before adding, "Michigan State came to play.''
Though the dominance was not as complete as Friday's effort, the second-ranked Gophers added three more points to their lead in the Big Ten standings. With 43 points, they are 16 ahead of second-place Penn State, which lost 5-4 at Michigan, and Ohio State, which was idle.
"They're the best team in our league for a reason, and that's the best we've played them,'' Spartans coach Adam Nightingale said.
Justen Close made 12 of his 26 saves in the first period, enabling the Gophers to gain their footing in the second, when they scored three goals and overcame deficits of 1-0 and 2-1.
Karsen Dowart's power-play goal at 2 minutes, 35 seconds put Michigan State up 1-0, but Snuggerud one-timed a shot past goalie Dylan St. Cyr at 3:40 to tie it.
After the Spartans regained the lead on Daniel Russell's goal on a two-on-one break, Knies nearly tied it midway through the second when he fired toward a yawning net. St. Cyr, however, reached back at the last instant to make a spectacular glove save. Upon video review, the call stood, much to the protests of the crowd.
"[Officials] said it was three-quarters of the way [over the goal line],'' Motzko said. "It's got to be all the way over.''
Undaunted, the Gophers tied it 2-2 at 13:31 when Pinoniemi scored his second goal in as many games by poking in a rebound of a Cooley shot on a rush. The cage came off the left peg, but officials ruled the goal good after video review.
"I saw he had a step on the 'D,' and I knew he was gonna bring it to the net,'' Pinoniemi said. "So I just stayed around the net, and it just kind of popped to me.''
The Gophers took a 3-2 lead at 15:28 when Ryan Johnson's stretch pass sent Brodzinski in for a backhander over St. Cyr.
"We kept responding,'' Motzko said. "It wasn't our 'A' game, but we got better as the game went on.''
The Gophers added goals by Chesley, Knies and Snuggerud in the third.
"This is it. We are now in the stretch run to the playoffs,'' said Motzko, whose team is idle next weekend. "We're going to use [the break] to our advantage. … Then it's 'go' time.''
Note: Gophers defenseman Mike Koster didn't play in the third after taking a blindside hit from Russell that drew a five-minute major and a game misconduct late in the second. Motzko did not have an update on Koster's status.