Less than 10 seconds on the clock, the scoreboard read 4-2 in Michigan’s Big Ten Final matchup against No. 2 Minnesota. The Golden Gophers looked to capitalize on their three man advantage against the Wolverines.
When Minnesota pulled its goaltender for the extra skater, forward Matthew Knies edged his side closer to a tie. Scoring with five seconds left on the clock, Knies had scrambled a last ditch effort for his side.
After starting the period up 4-1, Michigan’s penalty trouble put it only up by one in the final moments of the game. If the Wolverines had a few more lapses in judgment, it would’ve been anyone’s game in overtime. Playing with the lead has been a struggle for Michigan all season, and it almost cost it a Big Ten title tonight.
“I didn’t think we were great in the third period,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “We were just good enough … But to find a way to win this game in a tough building says a lot about our character.”
The Wolverines dominated until the third period, making their early efforts crucial in the end.
The Golden Gophers looked to counter Michigan’s dominant performance with aggressive play. When calls started going against Minnesota, such as hitting senior forward Michael Pastujov from behind, fans threw water bottles and garbage onto the ice. The announcers pleaded for Minnesota fans to stop, threatening a delay of game penalty to the Golden Gopher’s’ bench.
And when asked about the refereeing and possible missed calls in the third, Minnesota coach Bob Motzko had few words.
“Anything else?” Motzko said.
The littering put the crowd on their feet, causing rink assistants to enter constantly to clean up the wreckage. Yet most of the wreckage was already done by Michigan as it used its early momentum to guide it to a win against a higher ranked appointment.
To the home fans’’ approval, the two late powerplay goals drew concern to Michigan’s ability to finish out games. Senior forward Nolan Moyle and sophomore defenseman Jacob Truscott both headed to the box in the final three minutes, leaving the Wolverines three skaters.
“It’s hard six on three against a team like that,” Pearson said. “You can’t take the penalties. You have to play more disciplined. Things got away from us … but you have to stay on the ice.”
Coming into an away environment against the No. 2 ranked team was never going to be easy. If it wasn’t for sophomore goaltender Erik Portillo’s stellar saves or sophomore forward Thomas Bordeleau tracking back in the final moments to play lockdown defense, it would’ve been a different story.
But in the end, the Wolverines prevented Minnesota from scoring again and threw their helmets up in victory. Michigan had avoided a last second comeback, but it was clear that winning was the important thing — even if it wasn’t pretty at times.
“We won, so that’s all that matters,” freshman forward Dylan Duke said. “We came here to win, and we got the job done.”