Ohio State goalie Alex LaMere was sharp, stopping 39 shots and keeping the score close until near the end.

Even so the Gophers extended their unbeaten streak against the Buckeyes to 39 games, beating Ohio State 5-2 on Friday night at Ridder Arena in the opening game of their best-of-three, quarterfinal WCHA playoff series.

Just over a minute after the Buckeyes had tied the score 2-all early in the third period, Kelly Pannek answered for the No. 2-ranked Gophers (30-3-1).

Her goal made it 3-2 and turned out to be Pannek’s team-high sixth game-winner and second in two games. Last weekend the 5-8 sophomore forward, a former Benilde-St. Margaret’s star, beat Wisconsin 4-3 in the last minute of overtime.

At 13 minutes, Kate Schipper made it 4-2 Gophers, easing the tension a bit. Amanda Kessel added an empty-net goal with six seconds left for the final margin.

The goal was Kessel’s second of the game and fifth in seven games since she returned to the team.

“We weren’t playing bad and we weren’t playing great,” Kessel said. “When things aren’t going that great, you just have to work hard and try and get pucks to the net. It’s playoffs, it’s going to be a hard game.”

“Credit to Ohio State, they capitalized on their opportunities,” Gophers coach Brad Frost said. “They had a lot good pressure on the puck, and it caused some turnovers by us that ended up in our net.”

Dani Cameranesi gave Minnesota a 1-0 lead midway through the second period. Maddy Field tied the score 1-1 at 14:40 of the second for Ohio State (10-24-1) .

Kessel’s first goal of the game, at 18:25 of the middle period, put the Gophers ahead again at 2-1. The Buckeyes tied the score again at 2-2 on Claudia Kepler’s goal at 2:23 of the third period.

Rather than panic, the Gophers turned to Pannek.

The Gophers improved to 37-0-2 vs. the Buckeyes since February 2008.