DETROIT — The top two power-play units in the B1G traded blows in the conference championship game, as Minnesota topped Michigan, 4-2 with the help of two goals on the man advantage.
The Gophers claimed the nation’s best power play at 27.7 percent coming into Saturday’s contest and they did not disappoint, as Justin Kloos’ third-period goal on the man advantage earned a regular-season and tournament championship sweep of the B1G for Minnesota.
A scoreless first period was anything but dull, as both teams proved they belonged in the championship game with plenty of fast-paced action and scoring chances. Wolverines goalie Steve Racine was stout, turning away 20 shots in the first 20 minutes of play, as the Gophers offense opened with an aggressive attack.
It wasn’t until the second period, though, when the top two power plays in the B1G got chances to produce.
Just 53 seconds into the second, Michigan’s Justin Selman was whistled for boarding in the neutral zone. The penalty proved to be costly as Minnesota cashed in on the man advantage when Travis Boyd opened the scoring.
With 28 seconds left on the power play, Taylor Cammarata moved the puck from the half-wall to Kyle Rau, who was stationed on the goal line to the left of Racine in net. Rau sent the puck through the crease to an open Boyd, who dropped to a knee, taking a one-time shot. While Boyd didn’t get off a clean shot attempt, he did get just enough to send the puck knuckling into the open net for a 1-0 lead.
“Well fortunately for us, we scored a couple because the last couple weeks our power play hasn’t played very well,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “We were not very good last night, it was a point of emphasis in our meeting today that our execution had to be much better. I was not surprised from the standpoint that you get to this point in the season and it becomes more difficult to score 5-on-5. There was only one goal scored tonight 5-on-5, but when you have some elite players and have that extra guy, that extra space to make a play, if you fail to clear when you have an opportunity and you make a mistake, it’s gonna end up in the back of the net and that’s what happened a couple times each way tonight.”
The Wolverines were quick to respond with a power-play goal of their own just 1:26 later, as the B1G’s leading scorer, Zach Hyman made his presence felt in the championship game.
Hyman edged out Minnesota’s Brady Skjei in a puck battle along the half-wall. Hyman possessed the puck and immediately turned his attention to attacking the net. Moving left-to-right across the crease, Hyman went backhand-to-forehand in front of Minnesota’s Adam Wilcox and tucked it under the goalie’s out-stretched left arm for an impressive individual effort.
Three minutes later, Michigan would exploit another power-play opportunity when Alex Kile scored his 13th goal of the season and second of the tournament.
Hyman possessed the puck below the goal line over Wilcox’s right shoulder. He then centered the puck to a streaking Boo Nieves, who fanned on his initial shot attempt from the slot. Wobbling towards the net, the puck had enough steam on it for Kile to redirect its trajectory and elevated it over a sprawling Wilcox, giving the Wolverines their first lead of the game, 2-1 with 13:46 left in the second.
“A team like Michigan, you know they’re gonna get a chance to capitalize on a few of their power plays in the second period,” Wilcox said. “They had some patience there and they made some good moves, those are always tough shots. I thought we did a good job for the rest of the game staying out of the box and the refs were really calling stuff, especially in the second period. When you have periods like that, you just gotta make sure that you’re keeping your team in it and not letting anything get out of control.”
The lead was short-lived again, though, as Minnesota pulled even with a goal from its captain Kyle Rau, with 9:26 left in the period.
Rau chipped the puck up the boards past a group of stagnant bodies in the neutral zone and carried it into the offensive zone. On a 2-on-1, Rau put the odd-man rush to use, moving the puck over to line mate Hudson Fasching. The sophomore forward then faked a shot and sent the puck back to Rau streaking toward the left goal post. Rau guided the puck into an open net, as Racine could not keep up with the savvy puck movement in front of him.
“We’ve been taught on a 2-on-1 to pass the puck early, so I gave it to Fasching right when I got over the blue line,” Rau said. “He made a great play. I think we caught the D flat-footed, so I was pretty open back door. Fasching made a really good play, he’s a really good player. I saw him peek over at me, so I thought it might be coming.”
Minnesota would break the 2-2 deadlock with its second power-play goal of the game at the 9:29 mark of the third period.
Michigan’s Tony Calderone was called for holding Minnesota’s Justin Kloos as he attacked the Wolverines net, 8:35 into the third. Moments after drawing the initial penalty, Kloos went on the attack and scored the power-play goal with just six seconds remaining in the man advantage.
Leon Bristedt fired a centering pass to Kloos nearing the tops of the circles but the pass was slightly off target. Kloos kicked the puck up from his skates to his stick blade and wound up for a shot. Michigan defenseman Kevin Lohan laid down to impede the potential shot but Kloos reacted quickly and slid just right of the potential shot-blocker. Kloos’ skates collided with Lohan’s in the process, and sent the Gophers forward airborne. Parallel to the ice, Kloos threw the puck on goal, beating Racine low glove-side.
The Gophers added an empty-net goal in the final minute of regulation, sealing the win and earning a sweep of the B1G regular-season and tournament championships. With the win, Minnesota also earned a bid to the NCAA tournament, with the bracket being announced on Sunday at 12 p.m. EDT.