EAST LANSING, Mich. -- It took a furious comeback on the road, but perhaps the Minnesota Gophers’ issues with inconsistency went away when the calendar flipped to 2022.
Trailing by a pair with a little more than a period to play, the Gophers mounted a determined comeback, scoring five unanswered goals and winning 6-3 at Michigan State on Saturday for their first sweep since late October.
Despite the deficit on the scoreboard early, the Gophers’ offense was relentless, putting a season-high 60 shots on Spartans goalie Pierce Charleson in the win. The Spartans had leads of 2-0 and 3-1 that melted away, as the Gophers scored four times in a five-minute stretch late in the second period and early in the third.
“We’ve seen it coming, and we kind of knew it could come,” said Gophers coach Bob Motzko of the offensive contributions from all four lines. “It’s still early in the second half and we’re still building confidence in our lineup.”
For the second night in a row, the Gophers got a pair of goals from Ben Meyers, who has now scored nine times in 11 career games versus the Spartans.
The win snapped a string of five consecutive series that the Gophers had split. Just as important, the six conference points they earned on the weekend moves them into first place in the Big Ten. They stand at 12-8-0 overall and 8-4-0 in the conference with a non-conference home series versus Alaska next weekend.
The Spartans (11-10-1, 5-7-0) got the opener when Gophers goalie Jack LaFontaine got caught behind the net trying to play the puck, allowing Erik Middendorf to score what was in essence an empty net goal. On Michigan State’s first power play of the night, they doubled the lead just 11 seconds after Gophers defenseman Matt Staudacher went to the penalty box, scoring off a rebound for a two-goal lead.
Special teams for the Gophers finally answered late in the first when Chaz Lucius scored his second goal of the weekend after a cross-ice pass from Matthew Knies which Perbix deflected.
“This was a good test for us,” said Knies, who had two assists in the win. “This kind of just shows the resiliency in our group. We battled hard, we battled all 60 minutes, we played a full game and it was from every line too.”
The offensive onslaught ramped up in the second period, and still the Gophers found themselves down 3-1 until less than two minutes remained in the middle frame. They pulled back within a goal when Meyers tipped a Knies shot past Charleson. Just seconds later, the Gophers caught a break, when a shot by Rhett Pitlick went wide of the Spartans net, hit Aaron Huglen’s skate, then bounced off a Michigan State player and into the net for a 3-3 tie after 40 minutes.
"We started playing as a team early in the second period, and we just knew something was going to spark,” said Perbix. “We didn’t score right away in the second, but as the period kept going on and on we kept getting more and more chances and we knew one of them would go in.”
Postgame comments from Minnesota Gophers coach Bob Motzko, forward Jack Perbix and forward Matthew Knies following a 6-3 win over Michigan State at Munn Ice Arena in East Lansing, Mich., on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022.
Blake McLaughlin gave the visitors their first lead on the opening shift of the third period, then Perbix and another goal from Meyers closed out the game.
“Minnesota played well. We battled hard but we couldn’t sustain it throughout and keep that pressure on them,” said Spartans coach Danton Cole. “I think we woke them up and they played well. That’s where we’re at.”
LaFontaine, who has started every game this season, had 21 saves. The Gophers thought that they had gotten a second Huglen goal in the third period, but after review officials ruled no goal. Motzko asked for an explanation and considered challenging the call, but the on-ice officials did not give him an explanation of their call.
Minnesota 6, Michigan State 3
Michigan State 2-1-0—3
First period — 1. MSU, Erik Middendorf 6 (Jesse Tucker), 3:01. 2. MSU, Jeremy Davidson 9 (Kristof Papp, Jagger Joshua), 11:31, (pp). 3. MIN, Chaz Lucius 7 (Jack Perbix, Matthew Knies), 18:44, (pp). Penalties — Nicolas Muller, MSU (slashing), 3:33; Aiden Gallacher, MSU (cross checking), 5:22; Matt Staudacher, MIN (roughing), 11:20; Cole Krygier, MSU (interference), 12:32; Joshua, MSU (slashing), 17:37.
Second period — 4. MSU, Middendorf 7 (Tucker, Krygier), 9:22. 5. MIN, Ben Meyers 8 (Knies), 18:03. 6. MIN, Aaron Huglen 3 (Rhett Pitlick, Ryan Johnson), 18:41. Penalties — Adam Goodsir, MSU (slashing), 12:40.
Third period — 7. MIN, Blake McLaughlin 5 (Brock Faber, Grant Cruikshank), 0:22. 8. MIN, Perbix 3 (Bryce Brodzinski, Mike Koster), 3:06. 9. Meyers 9 (Brodzinski), 19:10. Penalties — Christian Krygier, MSU (tripping), 0:22; Tanner Kelly, MSU (tripping), 6:35.
Shots on goal — MIN 15-21-24—60; MSU 10-6-8—24. Goalies — Jack LaFontaine, MIN (24 shots-21 saves); Pierce Charleson, MSU (60-54). Power plays — MIN 1-of-7, MSU 1-of-1. Referees — Cameron Lynch, Sean Fernandez. Linesmen — Nicholas Bet, Nick Huff. Att. — 5,209.